Mealtimes matter: The development of a pilot program for families of children with complex sensory-based feeding problems

Ms Tracy Harb1, Ms Rebecca  Aherne1, Ms Anne  Embry1, Ms Pip  Golley1, Ms Tiffany  Peddle1, Ms Jane  Rogers2, Ms Shien Ee  Tan1

1Canberra Health Services, Women, Youth & Children’s Community Health Programs, Canberra/Belconnen, Australia, 2Child Development Service, Canberra/Holder, Australia

Introduction: Currently, the Child Development Service (CDS) offers assessment, referral and linkages for children aged 6 years and younger, which includes speech and occupational therapy. Children who require intervention are referred to a community-based NDIS partner. There are no dietetic services provided through the CDS. Children requiring dietetic support are often referred to Canberra Health Services without the benefit of an integrated interdisciplinary approach. This may limit the effectiveness of nutrition support for these families, since very often feeding problems result from complex sensory processing problems. The evidenced-based Mealtimes Matter pilot program represents a new service delivery model of care for families and is an interprofessional collaboration between the CDS and the Women, Youth, and Children’s Community Health Program (WYCCHP) Nutrition team.

Objectives: To develop an evidenced-based interprofessional approach to assisting families with complex sensory-based feeding problems.

Methods: A series of meetings and ‘round table’ discussions were held with the aim to improve access to interprofessional services for families of children with complex sensory-based feeding problems. The meetings were attended by dietitians from the WYCCHP and the Canberra Hospital (TCH) nutrition teams and resulted in the development of a gap analysis and project brief outlining options for evidenced-based programs. The evidenced-based Mealtime Matters approach was chosen since it focuses on capacity building and empowering parents to become their child’s ‘therapist’ within a supportive group setting. The WYCCHP nutrition team leader approached the manager at the CDS for occupational therapy input and to scope the potential for collaboration. The project received funding under Allied Health Research Grants and is planned for implementation as a pilot program throughout the 2019 calendar year.

Discussion and Implications: The Mealtime Matters program has the potential to reduce the burden on Canberra Health Services by empowering parents to confidently manage their child’s specific feeding difficulty.


Tracy Harb is an Accredited Practising Dietitian specialising in maternal and infant/child nutrition; she currently works part-time for Canberra Health Services, Women, Youth & Children Community Nutrition. Tracy has many years’ experience in clinical practice in both public and private sectors, in addition to many years’ experience in Public Health Nutrition policy and program development for the Commonwealth Government. Tracy has also worked as a Public Health Epidemiologist for NSW Health. She has  completed a PhD at the University of Queensland’s, Faculty of Medicine, Child Health Centre; her research focused on functional gastrointestinal disorders in fully breastfed infants. Her PhD thesis is currently under examination.

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