Got a picky eater? The answer may be to turn your child into a “Lil Foodie.”
Andria Procopio, an occupational therapist, and Arefa Mohamed, a speech therapist, founded Lil Foodies NY, a series of food exploration classes for young kids. The goal of the class is to help families build healthy eating habits, turning picky eaters into adventurous ones.
Procopio and Mohamed run the Lil Foodies classes out of Williamsburg’s Edamama, (568 Union Ave.). The pair met at an elementary school in Manhattan and both offer years of experience.
Procopio holds degrees in Health and Exercise Science, Occupational Therapy, and Holistic Health Coaching. She founded A Well Fed Mind, a pediatric occupational therapy clinic with services that aim to combine traditional occupational therapy approaches with functional medicine and nutrition. She specializes in autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, learning disabilities and developmental delays, working with families in their homes, at schools, and also virtually.
Mohamed has a degree in speech-language pathology and has worked in schools across the city, while simultaneously maintaining a small, private practice. In 2022, Mohamed transitioned full-time to working in her private practice, Key To Growth Therapy, in Williamsburg, focusing on speech and language delays, autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities and ADHD.
Both Procopio and Mohamed have completely left the school system to focus on their respective practices, as well as the Lil Foodies classes. The therapists started the classes in McCarren Park with what they called a “sensory social hour.”
The Lil Foodies classes are now run at Edamama, a location that the duo finds is is easy for families. Procopio and Mohamed said they love Edamama because the owner, local Brooklyn resident Eda, is “so welcoming as a small business owner herself.”
Lil Foodies classes are intentionally small and geared for kids ages 3-5, but Procopio and Mohamed told Greenpointers that they have had kids slightly younger or older join classes also. “We like to talk to families before to understand where child is developmentally,” the pair said. The therapists use the SOS approach, or the Sequential Oral Sensory feeding approach which integrates motor, oral, behavioral, learning, medical, sensory, and nutritional factors to comprehensively evaluate children, and is based on typical developmental feeding steps, stages, and skills.
The Lil Foodies classes also use a no-pressure approach, which is geared toward picky eaters. Procopio and Mohamed explained that eating is the most complicated activity that we learn as humans. Seven areas of the body have to work together at the same time, and it involves 32 steps.
The Lil Foodies classes are not technically therapy, but more so a fun class where kids can be silly. “We get to know our kids and try to make it as fun as possible,” the therapists said. They also work to eliminate the “gross” aspect, shifting negative talk to positive, and replacing vocabulary from “gross” to “squishy.”
“In class, kids have fun and explore the foods, often not realizing they are exploring sensory properties, so those foods feel safe,” Procopio and Mohamed explained. Each class starts out with a movement activity, engaging gross motor skills, so the kids come to the table ready to learn. Every week the class explores a different color using all five senses. The therapist team often starts with red foods like tomatoes and strawberries, for example. After engaging the five senses, kids create food art using the foods of the week.
“We have had two series so far, but are still getting our name out there. People are still learning about our class, and we are also still learning,” Mohamed and Procopio told Greenpointers. “We could consider two classes in the future, but now, not enough people know about us.”
Before taking a break for summer, Lil Foodies is hosting a pop-up dinner on June 12 at Edamama, which will be similar to a class where kids prep and create a meal that families can then all enjoy together. Lil Foodies will be back in the fall with a new class schedule.
Mohamed and Procopio believe that having dinner together as a family is important. “I know life is hectic, but when it feels good, do a family meal together. Pass plates around and find ways to expose kids to a variety of foods, keeping language positive and objective.”
“One meal at a time,” the pair exclaimed.