Inspirational Woman: Sarah Almond Bushell | Founder, The Children’s Nutritionist

Sarah Almond Bushell I am an award-winning Registered Dietitian, ex NHS Consultant Child Nutritionist of 22 years and Founder of The Children’s Nutritionist™, working to reduce the stress around mealtimes for parents of babies and toddlers and passionate about helping to cut the ties of generational eating habits, fuelled by misinformation and desperation tactics.

Having worked for 22 years as a medical based nutritionist, who has studied; child development, eating psychology, feeding therapy and positive parenting practices, I have now created my dream business that allows me to help other parents who are in the same position as I was 10 years ago, from not knowing how to help our picky eaters, to not understanding how to nourish our children – and in doing so, I hope to  create a ripple effect globally of improved health and wellbeing for future generations.  

Within my business, I now run courses and classes for parents, helping them to navigate their baby’s weaning journey and the toddler fussy eating stage. I also help families on an individual level where fussy eating has turned into feeding problems or when children become food obsessed and may (or may not) begin to carry extra weight.

This all started with my blog – which now has around 55,000 visitors each month.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Growing up I had always had a love for food, from growing veggies in my Grandad’s allotment in Newcastle to spending Saturday afternoons baking in the kitchen with my mum.

My family were foodies, eating out or hosting dinner parties were a regular occurrence. Food was always a social thing, sharing a meal was our way of showing how much we loved and cared for people, it was an everyday luxury made extra special with guests around the table.

As a child, I was labelled ‘greedy’ because I was always eating and was the first one downstairs after those dinner parties so I could pick at the leftovers!

As an intuitive eater, I was fortunate not to be influenced by weight or healthiness, despite being surrounded by dieting messages from my mum who was always striving to be slim and my sister who was very thin and a constant worry to my parents. My love of food for its flavour and my ability to self regulate kept me healthy and well.

At school, it was obvious that home economics was my subject and a flair for the sciences led naturally to a career as a nutritionist. But, being highly ambitious, I wanted to train to become a Registered Dietitian, a step up from a nutritionist, because I felt the intuitive pull towards helping people manage their health and medical conditions through food.  

I focused my efforts in my study of food and nutrition and achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition & Dietetics, a Diploma in advanced dietetic practice, and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition for Children. 

Passionate about working with babies and children, I specialised early on in my career in Paediatrics and worked for the NHS in a busy London teaching hospital, and later at a specialist children’s hospital on the South Coast, until I left 22 years later at the top of my game as one of a handful of Consultant Dietitians in the UK. 

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Despite 12 years of expertise as a paediatric dietitian, I was challenged when it came to feeding my own children.

I truly embraced responsive feeding with my first child who had a stubborn temperament. This resulted in iron deficiency, because I caved in to his demands out of desperation for him to eat. This continued through toddlerhood where he hated eating together and even refused to sit at the dinner table one Christmas day, going on hunger strike.

My second child grew up learning that food hurt her. She vomited continuously from day one. It transpired that she had an undiagnosed egg allergy, which was only picked up at 9 months, but by then she had developed a feeding aversion.

I knew exactly what to feed them but getting them to eat was another story. The feeding psychology part is missing from our university training.

I felt like a failure as a mum, but also a fraud as an experienced paediatric dietitian, because none of the advice I was giving to my patients actually worked for me!

This is what led me to pursue extra training in feeding therapy from psychologists in the USA and since then I’ve helped thousands of families by putting together the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ when it comes to feeding.

Frustrated with the NHS red tape and restrictions on who I was and wasn’t allowed to help with my new skills, in 2020 before the pandemic hit, I decided to set up my own business so that I could reach and help more families.

Since then I’ve become the go-to expert when it comes to helping parents manage their children’s fussy eating.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Being recognised for my expertise and being asked to consult for brands including; Annabel Karmel, Hovis, Tommee Tippee, Thermomix and Aptamil.

I have ghostwritten three baby weaning books for famous authors, as well as writing ‘Love At First Bite’ my weaning book for Thermomix.

During my career, I have been awarded the British Dietetic Association’s Roll Of Honour (patron HM the Queen) for my leadership in the development of paediatric nutritional assessment for dietitians.

More recently in November 2021, I was shortlisted for the British Dietetic Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award for my role in supporting other dietitians in their careers.

But ultimately my biggest achievement has to be helping thousands of parents raise their happy healthy eaters.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Experiencing the struggle of feeding my own children.

The theory of how to feed kids is completely different from the reality of trying to get them to eat.

If I hadn’t experienced this, I wouldn’t have undertaken the extra psychology and feeding therapy training and my clients wouldn’t be getting the results they report now.

Likewise the results with my own children were remarkable. My food phobic daughter went from being frightened to try new food to wanting to eat out so she could experience food from new cultures. Now, at almost 13 she wants to be a chef when she grows up!

I believe that you have to address your food knowledge, the child psychology of eating and your own eating habits so that you have all the tools to raise a happy healthy eater. 

Sarah Almond Bushell

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have set up three mentoring programmes over the last 2 years to help other registered dietitians advance their careers, each program is aligned to the different stages they are in their career:

  1. Volunteer mentoring programme. This is for dietetic students or recent graduates who are taught online dietetic business skills that are missing from current Nutrition & Dietetic degree courses. They learn Search Engine Optimisation for dietetics (SEO), blogging with integrity, social media skills, graphic design, food photography, editing and translating scientific information into consumer online information. This is a 3 month rolling programme with group mentoring and one 1:1 meeting with me.
  2. Team TCN Internships – These are paid internships ranging from 10-50 hours per month where the interns learn paediatric nutrition/dietetic skills, child development knowledge including social, emotional and cognitive development and positive food parenting skills, so that they too can support parents to raise children who are intuitive eaters. The interns also learn the running of a successful nutrition business through hands on tasks where activities range from project management to responding to social media queries to designing weekly meal plans, to teaching masterclasses. Interns receive ongoing mentoring (often daily via WhatsApp) as well as for formal organised mentoring sessions and learn leadership and business skills through working in the business.
  3. Dietitians In Business Mastermind – This is a 15 week paid group coaching programme where I mentor and coach dietitians in their own freelance dietetic businesses. The focus is strategy for online businesses growth and specifically they learn how to create courses, memberships, ebooks and how to work with brands while withholding utmost integrity which is crucial for healthcare professionals as we are in a position of trust. Alumni have the option to continue working with me on a monthly basis thereafter.

 If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Dietetics is a female dominated profession. In my 22 years in the NHS I have only worked with 2 male dietitian colleagues and during the 2 years of my 3 tier mentorship programme, I have had none. Interestingly the nursing profession is female dominated too, but when you look at the higher-paid professions allied to medicine such as; doctors, dentists there is a more equal gender split.

No research has been done, but my gut feeling is that food, feeding and caring has been culturally assigned a female gender role. Our culture deems that mums are expected to plan, shop, cook and serve wholesome nutritious meals and look after the kids, day in day out while dad goes to work. Phrases like ‘you can’t beat mum’s cooking’ implies a female gender stereotype too.

Times are changing, both parents help in raising children in many households, and mothers go to work too, so we are starting to see a shift in these cultural norms. But despite these changes my gut feeling is that careers in nutrition are thought of as ‘ladies who serve the food’ rather than the medical nutrition therapy it actually involves.

And, because of this it is perceived as a female role.

So, for one thing to change…it would be the promotion of the role of the dietitian, educating the public and future generations on what it is we actually do.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Just because you are a Dietitian, you don’t have to work in the NHS. The NHS are the biggest employer of Dietitians but it’s not the only place you can have a successful career.

Having worked as an NHS manager I felt the frustrations of my staff, not being able to go beyond band 7 which they often reached within 4-5 year after graduating. At their appraisals, many would report they felt they’d reached a glass ceiling.  Whilst this works for some, many Dietitians are ambitious and want to go beyond what’s available to them in the NHS.

Many of my colleagues started working as freelance Dietitians on the side, not only to supplement their income (as NHS salaries are small), but also to continue to develop themselves and their clinical skills, but more often it was to fulfil a sense of achievement, expanding their careers beyond the walls of the NHS.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The next challenge for me is expanding my message to reach more people. Research suggests that up to 50% of families are struggling with mealtimes, but it doesn’t have to be this way. I plan to turn my widely read blog into a video show and podcast as well as share my message via the media so that more people can benefit from my expertise.

I am also planning to expand my mentorship programme with a ‘level 2’ version of my mastermind, so that those dietitians who have worked hard to establish successful businesses can elevate their impact, helping more people.

I am passionate about raising the profile of dietitians, who are the only type of nutrition professional whose advice is regulated by law. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist whether they have done a weekend course or a masters degree, or simply just had experience of changing their eating, but only properly qualified dietitians can use the job title Dietitian, it’s our trust tag for the public.

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