Can Food Change Your Child’s Life? One Family’s Journey to Yes

A really typical family.

That’s how Christi describes what their daily nutrition looked like a few years ago. “Food is a place you can cut costs,” Christi says, “so we were trying to see just how cheaply we could eat.” This meant a lot of bread, pasta, quesadillas and frozen pizza. But what Christi found is there was an expense for that cost cutting. An expense they didn’t even realize until they decided to make a change. But embracing that change took a little time.

Christi’s daughter Hanalei was receiving services from Marian Hope. She experienced development delays that CEO Angie Knight thought could be improved through diet. Angie suggested Hanalei go gluten-free but as Christi describes that felt “really alternative.” It did get Christi thinking and researching more about food. She was set down a path that led to a cookbook by Nigella Lawson. As she began reading the recipes, she realized all of them were from scratch, used fresh ingredients and called for eliminating high fructose corn syrup and canola oil. The more she read and the more she researched, the more she realized her family was not eating real nutrient dense food.

It occurred to her that Hanalei, who was struggling to gain weight, was not getting what her body needed from the food they were consuming. Christi was even giving her Pediasure every day but still wasn’t experiencing any gains. This new knowledge was encouragement enough for Christi to start attending a Marian Hope Nutritional Management Support Group. There she met others who were starting to incorporate nutritional changes. It felt less overwhelming because they were learning together. And overwhelmed was what Christi had been feeling with other approaches.

“We tried everything a doctor told us,” Christi shares, “and we were seeing so many specialists that kept telling us the same thing and nothing was changing.”

So with Angie continuing to encourage the diet changes, Christi started to open up to the idea. She decided any changes they made, they would make as a family. They began by taking out dairy. And something happened that Christi wasn’t expecting. Their other daughter had suffered from eczema and was taking prescription medications to help keep it under control.

When the family stopped eating dairy, the eczema started to clear up, so much so she discontinued the medications. Then they removed gluten and began eating more ‘real’ food and less processed foods. The benefits were widespread. Hanalei began processing language better and she had significant increases in speech. All this time. All these doctors. And finally they were seeing progress. There were other benefits too. “It made a huge difference for my whole family,” Christi says. Christi suffered from severe migraines and suffered from medication side effects.

After making the dietary changes, Christi stopped getting migraines and then stopped needing the medication altogether. Now their family is a 180 degree shift from their diet a few years ago. They eat only grass-fed meat, wild caught fish and organic fruit. Food has ignited a whole shift in approaching health. Christi shares this didn’t happen overnight. To get where they are now, it took a couple years of transitioning from the modern American diet and the idea that only medicine can fix an issue. Christi admits there have been some challenges but believes it is not as restrictive as people think. “People think taking out gluten or dairy limits your choices,” Christi shares, “but it really just takes a little creativity.”

She doesn’t try to replace gluten items with ‘gluten-free’ alternatives. She chooses whole foods rich with nutrients and the natural ‘medicine’ her family needs.

Some family favorites include Korean beef bowl, roasted vegetables, potato and leek soup and nut butter muffins. She believes the road to now was all worth it. “We were at the point where nothing was working and it felt so hopeless,” Christi remembers, “and then you turn to something you think is so on the fringe and that’s what ends up working.”

At Marian Hope, we support nutrition for our children and families in three main ways – education, application and intervention. The American diet has changed. We consume a higher amount of processed foods. There are increased toxins in our environment and our food sources are depleted of vital nutrients. All of these factors are affecting the health and well-being of our children. Not only does better nutrition help improve development and behavior but kids learn better when they feel better. Marian Hope is here to support every family find solutions and hope. If you would like more information, please reach out to one of our therapists or click on the below resources.

If a Sports Star Can Do It… I Can Too!

Brody is not just a picky eater.  With only three foods in his repertoire, he has never eaten fruit or vegetables.   He also has strong sensory aversions to food meaning he does not like to touch or even be around food.  His anxiety affects his mealtimes at school, in restaurants and at home. As you can imagine, this makes it difficult not just for Brody but for his family, friends and classmates.  His parents enrolled him in a picky eating class at Marian Hope.

But Brody loves baseball!  And he’s good at it too. A month ago he was asked to play on the youth 8 baseball even though he is only 7.    At the therapy session after joining the team, he asked his therapist Ms. Sara what types of foods athletes eat.  Together they researched. They found that athletes eat fruit and vegetables, not something Brody was super excited about.  

This sparked an idea.   

Ms. Sara, known for being innovative in her therapy approach, made some phone calls and was able to connect with former Major League Baseball player David Segui.   And what an all-star he was. He agreed to FaceTime with Ms. Sara and Brody during one of their therapy sessions but only if Brody worked hard on trying new foods at home.    

This incentive really motivated Brody and he made the necessary progress for the FaceTime opportunity, so Ms. Sara organized the call.  

Lights, camera, action…Brody’s superstar moment was everything both Ms. Sara and Brody hoped it would be.  David brought his A-game encouraging Brody, sharing how food is fuel and giving him lots of food ideas to help make him a great athlete.  Brody ate it all up AND ate 6 bites of an orange following the conversation… A true HOME RUN for Brody!

Brody’s mom couldn’t believe it.  It was the progress she thought might never come.  Understanding that therapy is more often a ‘small ball’ game, Ms. Sara is hoping this is a springboard for more new food moments.  Therapists draw up the game strategy but real progress requires all the team players to do their part. Given his major league effort in this experience, Ms. Sara has confidence Brody has what it takes to continue achieving success.  

At Marian Hope, we are so grateful to have therapists like Ms. Sara who truly individualize treatment and use their creativity to accelerate progress towards goals.   And we greatly appreciate David’s time, energy and enthusiasm in the therapy session. But the real MVP… Brody! We are so proud of him for taking this huge stride in overcoming his fears.  

Peer Models – One Mother’s Thoughts

Peer ModelsOne mom recently shared her feelings about her daughter as a peer model in a Language Enrichment class. Her daughter is enrolled in the same class as her nephew, who has an Autism diagnosis.

My daughter has learned to give her cousin “squeezes” when he feels overwhelmed or screams. He LOVES it! And it has really touched my heart and his mother’s that she has learned to do this. Now a child who does not enjoy socializing and has trouble making friends cries her name when we leave. I love that she has learned that kids that scream just need help and wheelchairs, hearing aids, and using iPads to talk are normal and just the same as her. I feel she is learning just as much as the other children who are there for therapy and she doesn’t even know it. So thankful for this opportunity for her.


Slow Down!

For I know the plans I have for you...

Last spring at one of my son’s soccer games, I was feeling that “motherly” frustration at my son’s performance. I stood on the sidelines shouting things like, “Stay in your own lane!” “Turn around!” “Pay attention!” “Keep running!” etc… My husband looked at me and gently said, “Angie, he is doing well. You cannot expect him to have skills he doesn’t yet have.”

See, there are a lot of steps in soccer and, for non-auditory kiddos like Nate, putting it all together takes time, practice, isolated skill development, etc… My husband reminded me that I needed to be rooting for his personal gains and not worrying about the skills he still hasn’t mastered.

We often compare our children to others’ as we live in a very competitive world. We must ask ourselves, “What kind of race are we in? And where are we going?” We all have our own vision of the outcome we desire for our children, but we must recognize that God’s desired purpose and plan for each child is different…and different is good.

As parents raising a generation of children in a very competitive, fast-paced society we must be careful not to step in front of God and believe that our plans for our children are greater than His. We must trust Jeremiah 29:11 that states “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God loves our children more than we do. We need to trade out the time we spend worrying over them with time spent praying over them…and trust God, their creator, to reveal His promises for them.

Let’s move at the pace our children are showing us they can handle, nurturing them in wisdom and truth while modeling Christ-like grace and love. Lastly, let’s all just slow down!

-Angie Knight, Founder
Marian Hope

Gifts of the Heart

Every child is often asked “what do you do?”…what sports do you play?, what instruments do you play?, what is your “thing”? I know of several PRECIOUS children that don’t really have a “thing”. BUT, they are tender, meek, gentle, kind, humble and truly understand “love”. It is so important that we point out a child’s spiritual gifts and allow them opportunities to use those gifts of character to glorify God….as it is these gifts above all others that will truly change the world.

Meet Pierson…

Pierson and ClaireWhen MHA students were introduced to our change drive for our New Day charity event, one of our sweet students quickly emptied his pockets to give to the children at New Day. He gave humbly and without second thought; true, genuine giving. Pierson is filled with spiritual gifts. He has a heart full of love and compassion for others…and he is acting on it (love as a verb). He is a bright young child who intuitively feels for those with special needs. We have a little boy at MHA with Autism and limited language to express his feelings. One stormy afternoon, Pierson sat close to this little boy at lunch as he knew the storm made him feel anxious. He now has created his own website and is making lap blankets for children with sensory and proprioceptive needs. He has already donated several to Marian Hope Center. You can visit his website or follow him on Twitter @PierScience.

Pierson is a blessing to MHA and how he chooses to use his God-given gifts inspires others. He has a beautiful soul!

Love & Charity

Marian Hope Academy’s scripture focus this year has been Mark 12:30-31: Love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.

Of all the commands God gives us in His word, the greatest is LOVE. The Bible does not say Love the Lord with a “little” or “some” or even the “majority” of your heart…we are commanded to LOVE Him with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength. And then we are to LOVE others (not judge nor gossip about others; we are to LOVE). That may be easy to say, but are we doing it and are we teaching our children to do it?

In Bible Study at MHA, the students have learned to think about and analyze “love” as a verb. We have gone to scripture to help us put “love” into action. The students have spent the past two months solidifying “charity” in their hearts…as Charity is definitely an act of LOVE. As a school, we chose to bless New Day Foster Home which is an amazing organization in China that takes care of children with significant special needs; some of which are life-threatening. Each classroom planned and executed their fundraising ideas. The students researched, created timelines, developed a cost/profit margin, delegated out responsibilities, worked together as a team, created beautiful posters, wrote quotes and scriptures about charity and so much more. The students in one class decided on the slogan, KIDS FOR CHANGE; BUILDING HOPE, as the name for the event. The event was a huge success and the students bought in close to $1,000 for New Day.

change drive

To kick off the event that week, the students had a change drive which totaled close to $700 just in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters…and it was an amazing math lesson filled with predicting, estimating, calculating, graphing and much more. Hands-on, functional learning…and all for a good cause and to Glorify God!

Over the past few months, we have tied in the scripture verse from Philippians 2:4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Wow, hard stuff to conquer especially in our era of competition and pride.

Through this event I truly saw LOVE and CHARITY move from the mind to the heart. Humble giving!

-Angie Knight, Founder of Marian Hope

Consider a Change

Marian Hope believes in treating the WHOLE CHILD.  We believe that what a child eats affects how that child thinks, feels, functions, and behaves.  Over the years, we have recommended special diets to many of the families we work with.  The majority of these families are reluctant to take on such a monumental change, and with understandable reason.  Dietary changes are lifestyle changes – you have to change the way you shop, the way you cook, the way you think about food.   It is a paradigm shift and it can be a lot of work.  However, most of the families who make a commitment to a dietary change see benefits in their child or family that far outweigh the cons.  For example, Morgan’s mom was pleasantly surprised by the results and has been committed to his new diet for nearly a year now.  Read her story below from just a few weeks into their journey.

Morgan has now been gluten free for 5 1/2 weeks. When we decided to do this it was to see if it helped his behavior, his concentration and his stamina. Also, I have Celiac Disease and children with Down Syndrome have a higher rate of Celiac Disease so we thought we would try to get ahead of it with him.

So far the changes have mostly been seen by others. By that I mean he’s still being a typical pre-teen, pre-pubescent, back talking grump at home sometimes. Totally typical, right? But, his home speech & occupational therapists have seen a huge difference. I’ve noticed he answers questions quicker and is less sensitive. A friend’s mother also noticed a big difference during a sleepover.

Morgan before & after GF
The most noticeable change is his belly! Check out his side by side pictures. His belly is gone! That’s something we didn’t really expect. Morgan has never been overweight but has always had a belly and I’ve always shrugged it off as low muscle tone. Come to find out, it was actually bloated from the gluten (which he was totally addicted to). He hasn’t lost any weight, he’s just no longer bloated.

People will say, of course, he’s not eating carbs. That’s definitely not the case. This isn’t a no carb diet. He eats carbs all day. Just no gluten. What does he eat? Everything he used to love, just gluten free. Pizza, chicken tenders, nuggets, cheeseburgers, turkey sandwiches, pancakes, cookies and fruit (he’s always loved fruit). There’s more preparation and yes, it’s more expensive but if it helps him, I’m up for it.

Marian Hope offers several resources to help families wanting to make dietary changes.  We have a registered dietitian on staff who is available for consultations and we host free Nutritional Management Support Group meetings on the first Wednesday of each month.  We also post helpful links, recipes, and ideas to our website and blog on a regular basis.  Consider it – it might be the key to unlocking new potential in your child!  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, check out our Start Where You Are blog to get ideas for baby steps toward change.

A Touching Story of Generosity

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This last December, we were approached by a Marian Hope family who wanted to “give back.”  They felt that they had been so blessed over the last year and wanted to share with another family whose child was struggling to communicate.  They generously donated funds to purchase an iPad and communication app (Proloquo2Go) for a child with apraxia of speech.  They shared their story with us:
Our son E. has been receiving speech therapy at Marian Hope for about two years. He was a typically developing child up until he was about a year old, then we realized he was “losing” words and was no longer gaining any new words. We consulted his pediatrician and we were told it was probably normal and that some kids don’t talk until they are older. Other people told us it was because he is the baby of the family and his siblings spoke for him, or that he was just stubborn.
We found out shortly after E. turned 2 that it was not normal that he was losing words, and that he was not just stubborn. We discovered E. had something called apraxia of speech. In short, this means that the connections between his brain and his mouth kind of short circuit, or get jumbled. So, E. knew what he wanted to say but his brain was unable to communicate it to his mouth so that he could tell us.
The staff at Marian Hope got E. started right away with the therapy he needed, and in the last two years he has made more gains than we had ever thought possible. He went from having 3 words to being able to speak in full sentences. In addition, we have seen his sweet personality and wonderful sense of humor emerge.
While E. still has some hallmarks of apraxia, we celebrate every gain he makes and we are very thankful for the services he has received through Marian Hope.
Not every child with apraxia has it as easy as E. Some children require the use of technology, such as an iPad, to help them communicate. The problem is that iPads are expensive, especially for a family raising a child with special needs. That’s why my family decided to create an iPad fund through Marian Hope.
I know what it’s like to be that mama whose child is crying out of frustration because he can’t ask for what he wants, and my heart breaks for other parents going through the same thing.
So, this Christmas, we asked family and friends to consider buying less for our children, and to donate to the iPad fund so that we could give a child a “voice” for Christmas. Within a short period of time, one iPad was fully funded!
It is our hope to continue funding the iPad program as long as we possibly can, and that others would consider contributing as well. As Marian Hope grows and provides services to more children, the need for more iPads will surely grow as well.
We are so thankful to have Marian Hope and we are blessed to be able to help give something in return for all they have done for us, and for E.!
Obviously, we were so touched by this family’s comments and generosity.  We easily found a child who would benefit from their donation.  It was wonderful to see the tearful look of gratitude in their eyes when we told his parents the exciting news.  We hope that this donation will improve their lives and will help their son to make even more progress in therapy.  We asked them to share a little of their story as well:
Before we went to Marian Hope Center it felt as if we were losing our son. He would stare off in a daze, had poor eye contact, wasn’t talking, would often seek to be alone, wouldn’t let most people touch him and was always pretty irritated. After taking him to MHC we immediately saw improvement. We met with their nutritionist who gave us invaluable information about a gluten free/casein free diet and supplements. After changing his diet we immediately saw improvement in all areas he had previously struggled in. Once he started therapy at MHC he went from not talking to saying, “Ready, set, go!”, “down”, “all done” and has mimicked other words his therapists have said on numerous occasions. He went from a child who would not tolerate touch to a child that now reaches out for his therapist’s hand to guide him. This happened after only 2 months of therapy and changing his diet! We are beyond grateful for The Marian Hope Center and the amazing people who work there!
We are so grateful to be blessed with such amazing families at Marian Hope!  We have collected several inspirational stories over the years that you can read here and here.  To contribute to fund a communication device or therapy services for a child in need, please visit our Donation page or email Heather Ruoff.


Great news!

We received this testimony from a parent last spring and had to share…
I have some great news about [my daughter]! So, usually the most we can get out of her is a 2-word statement, maybe an “oh” thrown in for a possible 3 words. Saturday morning at about 2 am she cried out and then she said,

“I need help in here please!!”

In the few seconds it took us to process, she was snoring again! I thought I had dreamed it until I saw the look on [my husband’s] face. It was the clearest I have ever heard her talk!! We also put her in her big girl bed for the first time last night. She stayed in it all night (except for rolling out of it once)!

Thank you all so much for everything you have done for our entire family!!!!! I don’t know what we would do without The Marian Hope Center and the wonderful people who make it what it is!!!

This child has received speech/language and OT services through Marian Hope. She has Down syndrome. She is currently attending classes twice a week at Marian Hope. She is three years old and lives with her mom,  dad, and two little brothers.

Feeling overwhelmed in the kitchen? We can help!

In my almost 10 years as a dietitian I can say one thing with absolute certainty: those who have support are more successful.

Making changes to the way our families eat is difficult. It takes time, energy and resources that you may feel like you simply don’t have. It is because change is hard that I believe it should be done with a balance of support and challenge.


Image courtesy of marin/”.

Marian Hope believes so wholeheartedly in the necessity of good nutrition for the developing child that we offer a monthly support group for our families. We offer a fabulous place for you to start making the changes you need, one step at a time, in a supportive environment of other moms and dads in the trenches just like you. Our Nutritional Management Support Group meets monthly as a place to help families make and maintain the changes to the way their family eats.


As a nutrition professional, I attend these meetings to offer support and guidance, but the real value and power is in the support one mom gives to another when simply getting dinner on the table seems like a monumental task. The Nutrition Management Support Group that Marian Hope offers is invaluable. It is the place for support in our challenging food environment. There will always be a mom there who will assure you that you can do it and that it is worth it. If you’re considering going gluten free/dairy free, or desire to decrease processed foods we want you to know:


You CAN do it and it IS worth it.


But, take my advice, you can’t do it alone, and the glorious part is, you don’t have to! We are here ready to help you in the journey of your family’s “nutrition makeover” at whatever place that begins. The amazing journey to health that many of our Marian Hope families have embarked on has literally changed the lives of their children. Several of our families have stories that exemplify the positive influences the nutrition support group can have on a whole family. Read below to learn what one mom has gained from the monthly meetings at Marian Hope Center. Christi is evidence that as moms doing our best to feed our families, we are better together than we are apart.

~ Blakely Page, Registered Dietitian


My name is Christi and my family has been involved with Marian Hope Center for the past seven years. For the past three years I have been attending the Nutritional Management Support Group. Our journey to understanding nutrition was a slow one. Our family was happy with our doctor’s advice that all calories are the same, and that Pediasure would take care of my malnourished daughter. After dragging my feet for a while, I finally decided to try the meetings out and see what they were like.

 It was such a wonderful experience; Angie and Theresa were there to provide a guiding hand. All of the moms that attended had walked down the exact same path that I was starting down. I found a wonderfully encouraging group of moms – all with their own challenges at home, but always there and available to share their stories, their tricks, and their advice.


I have been attending the Nutritional Management Support Group meetings ever since. This group has given me incredible insight and taught me so much on this road to better health. I now have a network of people that help me feel like I am not the only one. We share recipes, tips on where to get the best deal on products, and even the day-to-day stuff like packing healthy lunches and snacks to bring to school.


If you are interested in replacing processed foods with whole foods in your diet, wanting to try going gluten- free, or just interested in nutrition and feeding your family well, this group is for you! I encourage you to give it a try. We meet on the first Wednesday of every month at 6:30 pm at Marian Hope Center.


Nutrition Management Support Group

Who:          Anyone!

What:        Support for making nutrition changes

When:       The 1st Wednesday of every month; 6:30 PM

Where:      Marian Hope Center (14820 E. 42nd St, Independence, MO)