A Community-Based Health and Nutrition Initiative for Families of Children with Developmental Delays and Disabilities

November 17, 2021

Good nutrition is an essential aspect of the health and well being of children at risk for and with developmental delay and disabilities. Georgetown University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (GUCEDD) physician faculty and Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) trainee are implementing an innovative community-based initiative that supports nutrition education for parents of young children who have young children at risk for and with developmental delay and disabilities. This initiative, "Parent Cafes," is being conducted in partnership with National Children's Center (NCC) , a multidisciplinary early education center in an under-resourced area of Washington, DC. NCC created Baby Bloomers, a community garden, to promote healthy nutrition behaviors. The LEND trainee and other Georgetown University students prepare monthly virtual sessions focused on nutrition and body systems. These sessions are culturally tailored and take into consideration the social determinants of health and any unique issues associated with developmental disabilities and the family participants. There is an allowance for families to directly ask questions of the faculty physician about specific medical concerns and to interpret medical information the families may have received from their primary care physician. This provides information for the families and helps them ask informed health questions during their children's medical appointments.

Each month, medical and health-science students deliver two, one-hour sessions focused on specific body systems (e.g., neurological, gastrointestinal, immune). The first session of the month provides background information that explains the system's importance, how it develops in early childhood, and the relevant implications related to developmental disabilities. The second session examines nutrition and its role in overall physical and emotional well-being. The families are given recommendations for nutritious foods, always taking into consideration the cost of food and its availability in their community. The NCC's Chef provides families with a video recorded cooking demonstration that they can try out, use at home, and discover new dishes. The videos are accessible via the Internet. The Chef's recipes build upon ingredients that are culturally accepted, while simultaneously introducing new options to expand the variety of foods, especially vegetables and indigenous ingredients as healthy options. This allows for culturally-related meal creation plans at home that add to the health improvement needs of the children. Sessions are conducted virtually over Zoom which has increased participation. The Parent Cafes offer many avenues for family engagement including wellness check-ins, strategies for maintaining healthy eating habits with limited budgets, and importantly promotes a space for families to share their experiences and build community.