Toddlers refusing most foods, teenagers looking for comfort in food and others struggling with their diet can see a nutritionist for free at Pediatric Partners of the Southwest.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Mikel Love started working eight hours a week at the practice in April 2016, and it’s allowed her to reach many patients who couldn’t otherwise afford a dietitian.
“She’s a huge resource even though she’s only there eight hours a week,” said Dr. Cecile Fraley, CEO of Pediatric Partners of the Southwest.
Rocky Mountain Health Plans funds Love’s position, two behavioral consultants and a care coordinator at Pediatric Partners as part of a state Medicaid effort to encourage integrated care.
Love tends to consult with nursing moms, underweight toddlers between a year and 2 years old, patients who are overweight and those struggling with other health issues.
Time is one of the most valuable things she can offer families because pediatricians are often on a tight schedule. She has time to spend working on meal plans and talking about family habits.
“I really try to individualize my recommendation based on what the family is doing,” she said.
Children younger than 1 year are at an increased risk for food insecurity, and she talks with parents about struggling to pay for food.
“Most parents won’t tell you, I’ve found, if you don’t ask,” she said.
If they are struggling, she talks with them about strategies to afford healthier meals.
She also helps children and teens who are overweight. While the rates of obesity she sees are likely far below the national average of 18 percent, it’s still an issue for some.
The number on the scale can loom large when assessing personal health, but Love tends to steer most patients away from obsessing over their weight.
Instead, she emphasizes healthy eating habits and making physical activity part of every single day.
Weight can be emotional, and while working with patients with eating disorders, she learned to guide them toward a focus on treating their body well and how their body responds.
“I definitely do see some success. I feel like I can inspire certain families,” she said.
With young, picky eaters, she tends to find that it comes down to a power struggle between children and parents.
“They are getting power over telling you what they will or will not eat,” she said.
To help take away the picky eater’s power, she advises parents to make dinners exciting and inclusive and set the expectation that everyone will eat what is served.