A local charity understands that for many families, it takes more than food to make a meal that nourishes the body and soul.
“Our philosophy is that mealtimes are about more than just getting food into your stomach. Mealtimes are about love and nourishment and interacting with one another and enjoying the process,” said Mandy Carleson, a local occupational therapist and president of the board of directors for Nourish, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing family and community support for children with feeding challenges.
Nourish provides scholarships for dietitian evaluations, direct feeding therapy including speech therapy and occupational therapy, and specialized feeding equipment that is not covered by health care insurance.
Clients include children born prematurely and with physical and emotional disabilities, as well as children with developmental delays, special needs and conditions such as autism spectrum disorder. Most clients range in age from birth to five years, but the organization serves children of all ages.
Nourish came into being in 2011 due to the downturn in the economy and cutbacks by insurance companies for children in need of feeding therapy; in the past two years, the organization has provided 279 scholarship hours for feeding therapy and nutrition consultations.
“We often have children who need nutritional support when transitioning from gastrostomies (g-tubes) to oral feedings, so Nourish will provide several visits with dietitians. We also have children who have feeding issues who are not transitioning from breast to bottle feeding or from bottle feeding to solid foods who need support. We see lots of children who have medical complications or medical issues as well as developmental delays that impact feeding, and the cost of therapy is daunting,” said Randi Morgan, who hopes to offset that cost as co-chair of the Third Annual Taste for Nourish at Fox Theatre on Oct. 18.
Nourish also serves children who suffer from food anxieties.
“People associate these children with being picky but often there is something biological or physical going on or an anxiety that is at a different level,” Carleson said.
Morgan, a speech pathologist, said highly selective or anxious eaters may have issues with color, taste or texture of unfamiliar foods, and early intervention through Nourish’s free monthly community classes such as Anxious Eaters/Anxious Mealtimes can help make children and parents more comfortable and possibly alleviate the need for therapy.
A Baby’s First Taste class offers early intervention training to professionals at various Tucson agencies who also relay information to parents.
Nourish seeks to give children a healthy foundation in life by creating healthier relationships between children and food.
“For many of our parents, mealtimes are basically medical procedures: They become very prescribed. Even if these families are not able to get their child off of the feeding tube for years down the road, we try to help families enjoy the process of mealtime and make mealtimes more successful and loving for everyone,” Morgan said.