It’s dinnertime at the Dearborn home of Sudoos Hamood. Her five children make their way to the round, wooden table where they begin to help themselves to platters of chocolate, bread, salad and chicken with rice.
The two youngest, ages 6 and 7, opt to start their meal with dessert, while the older kids, ages 13, 12 and 9, fill their plates with protein and veggies.
This scene is much different than it would have appeared a few months ago.
“In the past, everyone would have just grabbed something—a sandwich or something—and ate it in front of the TV,” Sudoos said. “It’s different now because of what I learned.”
Over the summer, Sudoos learned new skills for family mealtimes from United Way’s FEAST workshop.
FEAST—which stands for Feeding, Eating and Succeeding Together—is our nutrition education initiative. The program empowers adults to support their children as they develop eating skills. The workshops teach adults how to provide the appropriate structure and leadership that children need to grow into happy, healthy eaters.
It’s a part of our Health work, which aims to ensure access to basic needs services and to promote health and wellness—especially among children—in our community.
We accomplish this with the help of partners like ACCESS. United Way supports ACCESS on a wide range of Early Childhood, Basic Needs and Economic Prosperity programs that help build stronger families and communities.
With 11 locations and more than 120 programs serving metro Detroit, ACCESS is the largest Arab American community nonprofit in the United States. They offer a wide range of social, economic, health and educational services to a diverse population.
This summer, our partner ACCESS hosted their first-ever FEAST workshop.
Nahed Alkashbari has been teaching parenting classes at ACCESS since 2014. She helped translate the FEAST class into Arabic for a group of parents, most of whom were from Yemen, Egypt and Syria. She then went on to receive training from United Way’s Registered Dietitian Lily Doher. Now, she can teach it regularly as a part of her work with parents.
“People are still talking about it,” Nahed said. “They’re using what they learned and it’s improving their relationships with their children and easing stress.”
The old adage that children don’t come with a handbook is perhaps most evident at the dinner table. Only 34 percent of parents are confident they are doing a good job shaping their child’s eating habits, according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.
We created FEAST to alleviate those concerns. Sessions focus on four topics that address families’ top mealtime issues: the Feeding Relationship; Patience Works Better Than Pressure; Family Meals and Routines; and Kids, Sweets and Treats.
“There’s a lot of great nutrition information available on what to feed kids, but we realized the information on the ‘how’ of feeding was missing,” Lily said. “We set out to develop a program to help fill the gap.”
Beyond ACCESS, other FEAST partners have included Oakland Family Services and Macomb Family Services.
The round-table structure of the workshop provides a comfortable environment for parents to learn from one another. Taught over the course of four weeks, participants are encouraged to share personal experiences and develop real-time solutions.
“We talk openly about the feeding struggles that nearly all parents deal with, Lily said. “Groups get topics to discuss, activities to ground the subject matter, and then chances to try out the strategies at home.”
Few things bring people together like food. But when a child refuses to eat, food can transform from a bonding activity into a point of contention.
FEAST uses childhood nutrition expert Ellyn Satter’s evidence-based, best practice feeding models to take the stress out of mealtime – making it more enjoyable for everyone.
For Sudoos, this means getting back to tradition.
“It’s empowering, really,” she said. “I see the importance of routine and schedule and I now understand what my role is and what the role of the kids is.”
So far, her children love it too. They are given the option to choose what foods to eat from what is available and how much to eat, which helps to build autonomy and independence
Nahed is teaching others about FEAST, and using the lessons at home to better connect with her 16-year-old son. Previously ,dinner was frequently interrupted by the presence of cellphones and tablets. Now dinnertime now is decidedly low-tech.
“It’s become a great time for us to connect,” Nahed adds.
The parent-child feeding relationship represents many things and can impact other areas, according Sara Gold, United Way’s director of Basic Needs Strategy and Child Nutrition.
Sara’s team understood that in order to build healthy, thriving families and have the most impact for parents and partners, it was important to create a program that moved the childhood nutrition work beyond putting food on the plate.
The information FEAST provides on how to feed works in concert with the nutrition information that’s readily available.
“Using the FEAST model has a multiplier effect,” Sara said. “Children who grow up with parents and caregivers who use these strategies are more likely to be happy, healthy eaters long term.”
To learn more about FEAST workshops, contact Lily.Doher@LiveUnitedSEM.org.