Coming Full Circle
Karen Mountjoy, registered dietician and owner of Coastal Family Nutrition in Portsmouth NH has partnered with LEND trainees for their clinical experiences since 2018. Trainees have had the opportunity to shadow Karen in her private practice and with NH’s Feeding Nutrition and Swallowing Program.
Karen’s career started in the 1990’s as a special educator, working with children ranging from preschool to middle school. Her interest in nutrition was triggered by a parent’s concerns that food preservatives and diet were tied to her child’s behavior challenges. Recalling a favorite undergrad class, Introduction to Nutrition, she began thinking about food in a different way and her interest in pursuing nutrition as a professional interest emerged. After stepping away from teaching to raise her young family, Karen enrolled in the Nutrition program at UNH and completed her degree in 2014. Her vision was to combine her love of working with children with developmental differences with the field of nutrition in order to provide parents with evidence-based information on healthy eating.
Today in private practice, Karen sees children and teens with a wide variety of issues including nutritional status, pickiness, newfound vegetarianism, dieting and weight status. Her priority is to reduce parents’ worries and fears so that they feel more comfortable and confident feeding their children and are in turn able to enjoy eating together as a family. Karen guides her practice by first considering family food culture and priorities and then understanding the needs of the child she is serving. She then respectfully formulates goals with the family and supports the implementation of a new plan in their home.
In 2015, Karen began working outside of her private practice in collaboration with the state Nutrition, Feeding and Swallowing Team. Partnering with speech language pathologists, Judith Mikami and Ashley Bradley, the interdisciplinary team sees children in their homes to address complex feeding and nutritional concerns. Referrals are primarily made by Early Supports and Services, Gastroenterologists, Special Medical Programs or Pediatricians. These home visits allow the team to be in the family’s own kitchen while they prepare their food and feed their children in their natural environment. The speech language pathologists focus on safe chewing and swallowing, while Karen considers a child’s diet, weight, and growth. Together they problem solve and make recommendations to address the needs of the individual child in the context of the family. Often the visits are set up to overlap with home care or Early Supports and Services Providers, who in turn can support recommendations and follow-up. Partnering with NH-ME LEND, Karen has included trainees on these day-long ride-a-longs with the NFS team, to hear the cases, observe the visit, and debrief with the team.
"My partnership with LEND comes full circle for me. It is my connection to my educational experiences at UNH, the Institute on Disability, and the fact that we are all connected across the state helping, supporting, encouraging families with children with different development. Together we're all working together for the common good."
Karen is also dedicated to serving families in her community experiencing food insecurity by volunteering with Gather, formerly the Portsmouth Family Food Pantry. At the start of the Pandemic, she assisted with the pantry’s “grab and go bags,” a lunch program launched when schools shut down. Through the summer, Karen formulated simple recipes for the Pantry’s Meals 4 Kids and Mobile Market Program, so that families could easily prepare nutritious meals from surplus food donated by local stores and restaurants.