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Newy author pens book to help with fussy eating

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“But I’m not hungry for my dinner”. 

It’s a war cry many a parent of a preschool-aged child can relate to, and it is also the title of a new book written by Newcastle paediatric feeding speech pathologist Valerie Gent.

The mother-of-two who owns ‘Let’s Eat! Feeding therapy’ in Lambton, believes meal times need an overhaul.

“Parents provide, child decides,” says Ms Gent.

“It’s time we leave food aside and focus on the connection that mealtimes bring. 

“There have been several studies that tell us that shared experiences and regular connections at meal times bring about improvements in a child’s mental health and wellbeing, academic levels and also language.”

Through her 18 years of experience, including work at Sydney Children’s Hospital and paediatric health consultancy work, the small business owner says she’s found getting back to basics is the key.

“Our parents had it right,” she said.

“We are all busy at the moment but we’ve ignored the fact that mealtimes are about coming together as a family even if it’s just once a week. And it doesn’t have to be at the dining table, it can be on the floor or at the kitchen bench.

“Try if you can to turn devices and the TV off.”

“If one parent is at work, then the parent at home can still sit with the kids and share a meal.

“When the working parent comes home, if it’s not too late, then the kids can have dessert while mum/dad eat.

“This is where we reconnect in our day with our kids.  So it comes as no surprise that language skills naturally build in this time.”

Ms Gent’s book tells the story of Billy, a three-year-old boy who finds eating challenging. 

His parents continually worry about what he eats and how much he eats. 

They use all sorts of bribery and pressure tactics to make him eat, but their strategies don’t work, until one day his grandma has a good idea.

“The principles of the story use evidence-based responsive feeding strategies,” Ms Gent says.

Both the words and illustrations within the book have received the Ellyn Satter Institute (ESI) seal of approval. 

“In fact the pictures help tell the story,” Ms Gent says.

Valerie Gent

“They subtly change from pre-plated servings to a table setting where we all eat together.

“It’s all about taking the pressure off both the child and the parent and focusing on the joy of spending time together.

“A recent study found that there are around 46 prompts to eat within a meal time.

“That’s 46 times a child hears things like ‘try it, you might like it’, ‘take a bite’, ‘eat your vegetables’ and that’s in a typical developing child.

“We need to reduce the pressure- both positive and negative because it’s all forms of pressure”.

“It’s about getting back to sharing the experiences that food brings.”

The book’s drawings are the work of Newcastle illustrator Kirrili Lonergan, who has added her unique touch to several picture books already.

“She has really brought emotion and connection to each of her characters,” Ms Gent says.

But I’m NOT Hungry for my Dinner’ is also a valuable resource for any professional working with children.

It is available through Ms Gent’s website, at all local good book stores and online. 

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