The Light at the End of the Tunnel

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President’s Weekend marked a milestone in my home. Typically, my youngest, Billy, only eats bananas from fruit vendors on the streets of NYC, but on Saturday he surprised me by eating one while sitting at the dining room table. The produce trend continued when the boys watched me peel butternut squash as I prepared dinner. Bobby recalled peeling carrots and cucumbers with me when he “was little” and also told Billy he needed to eat some form of protein with his pretzels. My husband and I just looked at each other and smiled.

I was eager to see how the boys would react to a little taste test I prepared for them that evening. Billy will only eat pasta in yogurt (it sounds disgusting but is actually quite tasty), so I thought it would be fun to let the boys try different kinds of pasta sauces.: pesto, yogurt and natural tomato sauce. Test One: Billy spit the pesto and pasta right out; Bobby did the same. Test Two: Bobby went on to try the pasta with red sauce. He described it as awful, yet ate it anyway, and when I offered more he took another bite. We even performed a Bonus Test–sprinkling Parmesan cheese on top of the pasta– and amazingly, Bobby liked it better without it.

I was heartened by the boys’ willingness to try the little samples I had prepared. The changes were small, but as any mom knows, any sort of openness to new foods is a step in the right direction. It gave me hope.

In an attempt to continue this adventurous streak, on Monday night I prepared a meatloaf made by the butcher at Whole Foods. If you remember, Bobby loved Whole Foods’ turkey meatloaf but the store rarely has it and when I tried to make him a homemade version he refused to eat it. (My husband and friends loved the homemade meatloaf, by the way.) Bobby asked where this meatloaf came from, and  I told him it was from Whole Foods. I hesitantly handed him a plate of meatloaf served with whole-wheat pasta and apple slices, worried that he’d know it was beef and not turkey. Astonishingly,  Bobby never inquired. His only request was that I cut the hard edges off, which I obliged. “I love turkey meatloaf!” he proudly declared, as he proceeded to finish his portion. I didn’t want to ruin the moment by correcting him, so I just let it be and happily watched my son enjoy a new food. This was the first time Bobby ate beef since he was 12 months old.

I’m happy to share that the apple slices were a huge success too. While the boys played chess on the iPad with their dad, I had sliced an organic apple using an apple corer and set them on a nice plate. I left the plate near the boys on the table without saying anything. Suddenly, Bobby declared loudly, “I love apple slices!” and proceeded to gobble them up while Billy licked one slice. He even asked for more, which prompted me to cut up extra and serve it with his meatloaf dinner.  I don’t think I did anything particularly remarkable that afternoon when my boys were suddenly excited to eat fruit—it wasn’t magic. Rather, I think that the boys were under the influence of their cousins, Lily and Sophia, whom they saw eating apple and orange slices the day before. The girls ate the fruits with such zest that they made it look appealing to the boys, and they’ve been eating apples ever since.

Just this morning the boys tried blueberries again. Bobby ate buckwheat pancakes. And although Billy didn’t actually add anything to his small ingredient repertoire, the weekend was still a success simply because he was willing to try new foods. Bobby’s apprehension about trying new foods has definitely been decreasing as he matures— these President’s Weekend taste tests are evidence of that. All of the small changes this weekend lead me to conclude something pretty big: There is a light at the end of the picky-eating tunnel. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made so far and I’ll continue to encourage my boys to have fun and try new foods during the meals and snacks to come. My boys may become adventurous eaters and share a love of yummy food like their parents after all!

Too Much Weight on BMI

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Too Much Weight on BMI
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE

A few weeks ago I was asked to share my thoughts on Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative with radio host Rita Cosby. I researched the campaign at length while watching the boys play soccer, and what I came up with is that the movement is generally positive. I do believe that a bit of tweaking is in order, however, and that certain ideas could be rephrased. (Check out the complete podcast here.) As I continue to think about America’s “obesity epidemic” I think the measurement called Body Mass Index is overrated and has the potential to misdiagnose ourselves and our kids.

At the end of the day, it always comes back to this same question: “What can we as parents do to prevent disease?” This includes obesity-related disease.

I recognize we need measurements for statistic purposes and possibly diagnostic tools. However, I think BMI should be emphasized less and instead we can focus on behaviors and a cluster of measurements. BMI is only one measure, and it’s not always reflective of a person’s state of health.

BMI is based solely on height and weight. (You can read the official definition from the NIH here.) Weight can be a funny subject though. After all, the number on the scale is not always reflective of how healthy a person is. Therefore, one’s body mass index is not going to accurately reflect a person’s health status.

As parents, healthcare facilitators and makers of change, we must remember that obesity does not always equate with overeating, high cholesterol and/or inactivity. A dear client of mind, for example, has a BMI that would qualify her as overweight, and yet she is a shining example of good health. She runs marathons, eats a balanced intake of food, and has an ideal cholesterol ratio.

Let me let you in on a little secret: I, too weigh more than the black and white number recommended for my height, otherwise known as my “ideal body weight.” Me—a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and “paragon of health (by all other measures)”!

Granted, there is a ten percent range above and below IBW. I fall into the range above my IBW, as many people do. That being said, you can see how easy it can be for someone above their IBW to assume they are overweight, even when it’s not true. I’m by no means overweight, rather I am the weight that is appropriate for me.. If someone were to slap a label on me based on weight alone, or to use Weight Watchers’ recommended weight, I would be over my goal number.  Well, I don’t need to lose weight, so the point is, using these means to determine a person’s health with a Body Mass Index are somewhat antiquated and inaccurate.

Remember that muscle weighs more than fat. Otherwise, most hyper-muscular football players (even Tom Brady!) would be considered overweight too, if only by their BMIs. Some people are also more densely built than others. My nephew, who is visually lean and bony, qualifies as obese according to his doctor, though if anything, he could stand to gain a few pounds.

Whether lean and dense or round and curvy, we are all decidedly beautiful. We must remember that BMI is not a measure of self-worth. Rather, it’s merely one tool that aims to measure health—and a flawed tool at that.

On the flip side, I also work with a number of clients who have extremely low BMIs. These individuals are struggling with their health.  They may use unhealthy behaviors such as skipping meals or starving themselves to keep their weight down and or BMI low. So you see, a low BMI may not be indicative of health either. What we need to be sure of is to take our focus away from the body mass index and to instead consider healthy behaviors as a whole.

So if weight isn’t the ultimate measure of health (nor is one’s appearance), then what is? Blood pressure, liver function, Total Cholesterol/ HDL ratio, endurance, energy and other daily habits are much better ways to gage a person’s physical condition. As parents, political pundits and health care professionals, we must move toward size-acceptance, promoting confidence and self-esteem in our children. I propose to start with the following:

  • Foster a positive opinion of food in the household.
  • Feed your children a balanced intake of whole grains, lean proteins and heart healthy fats.
  • Tell your children you love them. Have them look in the mirror and tell themselves they are loved. Tell them they are  more than a number.
  • Encourage healthy behaviors by setting an example.
  • Focus on your children’s efforts and behaviors, not on outcomes or measures. Praise them for trying a vegetable or sport rather than for being a veggie eater or a great baseball player.

Quick Tips For Moms on Helping Cultivate Healthy Habits

Whether it’s Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign, my friend’s talk in Westchester to the PTA or the development of a new Food and Nutrition Committee at my son’s school, Moms and Dads are advocating for positive change for health promotion. We walk a fine line while doing this as we don’t want to create more problems in regards to the already challenging job of feeding our children. Here are five simple tips to include in your “lunch box” of tools.

 

Teaching Not Preaching to Your Kids, Healthy Habits

Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE

Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services (www.LauraCipulloLLC.com)

www.MomDishesitOut.com

 

 

 

 

 

 1. Don’t preach instead lead by example:

  • Let your children know you are off to spin class or pilates
  • Plan active vacations whether it be skiing or hiking in Colorado

 

2. Practice exposure therapy

  • Try new foods with your children especially on vacation or during the holidays. St Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras offer different cuisines to tantalize your taste buds.
  • Leave the veggies on the table even if you know the kids won’t eat them.

 

3. Take your child food shopping

  • Shop at the farmer’s market or a food store that emphasizes sustainable, local agriculture and wholesome foods such as Whole Foods.
  • Limit shopping at grocery stores that offer more colorful, child focused boxed and processed foods.  There marketing sucks your kids in.

 

4. Encourage Trying, Not Winning

  • Tell your child you are proud of them for trying a new food or a new activity. It’s not whether they like the veggie or if they played the game correctly.
  • Focus on the great effort and fun your child had at trying a new sport like roller-skating not how they didn’t fall.

 

5. Practice self regulation

  • Let your child choose how much of the dinner to eat. No clean the plate the club!
  • Ask your child “Are you hungry, thirsty, bored or tired?”

 

A Moment of Momzilla!

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Last winter I took my eldest son, Bobby, and my nephew skiing for their very first time. When Bobby did great on his first run, I decided to take my nephew down the mountain too. Of course, it was ridiculous to think I could handle 2 beginners. Bobby ended up falling.

I was convinced I had ruined skiing for Bobby forever; he was resistant to sports to begin with. I had already scheduled private lessons for the boys 2 days later, so I sent them anyway.

Bobby was not exactly excited to get back on skis after his initial spill. He resisted. He acted out. It was ultimately a failed attempt.

Hoping he’d maybe forgotten about his first experience, I tried to get him back on skis on another weekend at a different mountain. This time, he was like a limp noodle, refusing to as much as stand upright let alone listen to his instructor. Bobby only wanted to ski with me, but that was impossible since I had unfortunately been in a ski accident the week before and was forced to sit on the sidelines for the rest of the season. I was so distraught.

Maybe it was the concussion speaking, but I just couldn’t understand how my son—my own flesh and blood—didn’t love skiing as much as I did. I was looking into buying a ski house. What would I do with Bobby if he hated skiing? To add insult to injury, my nephew, whose parents don’t ski, was having the time of his life. I couldn’t stop thinking how reversed the situation was.

To me, this was a catastrophe. Sad to admit, but I even cried about this to my therapist. It wasn’t so much that Bobby hated skiing or that my dream house was quickly becoming a nightmare. No, it’s because I was suddenly becoming this mother that I didn’t want to be—a momzilla of sorts.

Refusing to accept Bobby’s athletic distaste (how can a dietitian’s son be physically inactive?), I gave the whole sports thing one more shot (he refused to play soccer too)—this time with mother-son rock climbing. The result? Bobby thought that scaling the smaller wall was fun, but when faced with the full rock wall, he went running for the hills. (Well, really, he hid under the mat as though he were a small animal.) I, of course, said all the wrong things—and hated myself as each word escaped my mouth. I offered rewards. I made threats. I knew I was completely out of line.

Both my therapist and husband said I was overreacting. They said when my son was ready, he would participate in whatever physical activities he wanted. So, heeding their advice, I dropped it. No more sports classes, no more private instructors, no more pushing or comparing or dreaming. I needed to let Bobby be himself and grow into someone different than who I may have thought he’d be, at least at that age.

Well, guess what? This fall, I enrolled Bobby in a school soccer program. I know you’re thinking, “Here she goes again.” But my husband and I send our children to progressive schools that encourage self-exploration, teamwork and learning through activity, and I hoped he would react differently in a more supportive environment, especially now that Bobby was older. I sent him to a soccer program that focuses on having fun—not on drills—and it worked. He loved the class and never complained.

Since turning five, Bobby has taken to a few other sports too. He smiles through swim lessons (my husband initially taught him to swim since he hated the classes), has started skateboarding (and is doing well) and has even attended a 2-week sports camp with a classmate over winter break.

Apart from giving him enough time to acclimate to new athletic endeavors, I think that Bobby’s peers have positively influenced him as well. As a colleague of mine, a pediatric development specialist, taught me, when kids try new activities, they don’t have to do them well. It’s more important to offer encouragement and praise for trying. So this is what I have been doing and I think it is effective in building self- esteem and acceptance.  After his first swim lesson, Bobby said to me, “I know why you are proud of me. Because I was scared, but I tried it and I had fun.”

As parents, we need to focus on building our children’s self-worth as they learn to cope with their environment. Give your child time to be who they are, not who you want them to be. I caught myself being a momzilla and changed my ways. It’s a delicate issue, but as parents we have a responsibility to handle it with care.

Have you ever found yourself facing your inner momzilla?

 

How Do You Answer, "Is this healthy?"

 

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Recently, both of my boys have been asking the question, “Is this healthy?” Billy asks, “Is hummus healthy? Are hummus and pretzels healthy?” Bobby asks, “Is yogurt healthy? Is pizza healthy? Is Gatorade healthy?”

Kids ask so many questions, and the way we answer them shapes the development of their beliefs and habits.

I’m not exactly sure why both boys have started to ask this question. I just know they keep asking. And it can be hard to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer when my primary concern is trying to instill them with a moderate view of food. Here’s how I go about answering their questions quickly, yet also with thought.

Hummus? Yes, hummus is healthy. It helps your heart. (FYI, Billy eats hummus almost daily for dinner. He loves it so much that he eats it with a spoon at times.)

Hummus and pretzels? Yes, hummus and pretzels are healthy—if you also eat other foods like chicken and pasta. (I say this because Billy refuses to eat chicken, pasta and other seemingly normal foods. It’s my small trick for getting him to try new ingredients.)

On a related note, I can honestly tell Billy that pretzels are healthy because the ones he eats (unknowingly, of course) are made of either whole wheat or spelt. When we refer to chicken, again, it’s organic and hormone-free. And pasta is organic and whole wheat. The kids don’t need to know these details, and I don’t specify this regularly. Healthy ingredients are simply the norm in our house, and I think the boys will get this message over time. I do not want to inundate them at ages 3 and 5.

At times, I think parents and teachers can make children overly—and unnecessarily—anxious about the food they’re eating when using complicated details such as ‘whole wheat,’ ‘antibiotic-free,’ ‘hormone-free,’ ‘saturated fat,’ etc. Kids need to first understand the basics, like the difference between an everyday food versus a sometimes food. It’s okay to eventually teach them about the aforementioned specifics, but at the right time. Otherwise, your children could eventually rebel.

Keeping this in mind, I try to answer Bobby’s questions in this same manner. Greek yogurt is an everyday food in our home. The protein in yogurt helps us build muscles and strong bones. Pizza is a sometimes food, as long as we eat other foods like fruits and vegetables. Gatorade is a sometimes drink for athletes, like someone who is training for the Olympics or exercising at an intense level for more than hour.  Yes, you can have a sports drink, but not every time you swim or skateboard.

So, as I’ve discovered, and as I hope you can see, the answer to, “Is this healthy?” is not a straightforward one. But you can use these small tricks for helping your children to understand what they’re eating in a positive and healthful manner. How do you answer your kid’s questions about healthy and not healthy foods? Do you use words like “everyday foods” and “sometimes foods” in your household?

For more information on everyday foods and sometimes foods, read A Blueprint for Your Child’s Nutritional Intake.

A note to my readers:

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A note to my readers

 

As I continue to share my stories, experiences and other “food for thought,” I am realizing that at times my entries extend beyond the experiences of my personal family. Each lesson is, however, always relevant to my family, since I am constantly applying what I learn toward raising my children.

 

I see my blog as an opportunity for all moms, dads, and caregivers to unite, bond, and learn to become moderate in our parenting and the feeding of our children. The goal is to raise happy, healthy, moderate children who eat all food in moderation, respect their bodies no matter what shape they may be, and enjoy life. Health promotion and disease prevention are of course at the core of what I do too.

 

So, instead of limiting our children’s perspectives on food and life to that of a black and white way of thinking (i.e. good and bad, skinny and fat, right and wrong), we should be pioneering this mindset of moderate parenting and feeding.

 

Thank you for your support over the past few months. I look forward to sharing more entries, and I hope you too will contribute your experiences, lessons, and “food for thought” on the trials and tribulations of raising “moderate” children. I would love to have at least one guest blogger a month. Please email me if you are interested: cipulloRD@gmail.com.

 

Potty Training without M&M's

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Many of you probably know that food shouldn’t be used as a reward. If you didn’t already know this, then, from the prospective of an RD, I am telling you now.

As a mom, however, I also know that this is easier said than done. Food to a child can, after all, seem somewhat rewarding. Yet through my own experiences, I’ve slowly picked up on a few tricks on how to prevent food from becoming equated with success—and I think I can make it relatively easy for you moms out there too.

It all started with Billy, who will be three in a few weeks and just finished potty training. And guess what. We did not use food as a reward during this process.

Since Billy is my second child, I felt a lot less pressured to potty train him than I did with Bobby. Right before the school year began, Billy asked if he could go potty on the big boy toilet, and so I immediately pulled out the kid potty and we started training.

Billy sat on the potty a few times and then on the toilet. He went potty with the kids at school, but he refused to wear underwear or use the potty any other time. I figured I’d just let him be. As my Australian friend Maureen advised, they’ll learn at some point. (As it turned out, Maureen’s advice from down under was great. I just let Billy do as he pleased, and while he was still wearing diapers, at least he was content. And so I was happy too.)

As the holidays approached, the boys and I decided that sport and ski camps could be a fun way to stay busy during their time off from school. But Billy could only participate under one condition: he would need to be potty trained in order to be eligible for the program. I explained this to my three-year-old and offered him a small token to forgo his diapers and, voila—he was willing to concede.

Everyone tells you to bribe your kids with M&M’s. Instead, I opted to present Billy with handmade wooden animal ornaments for our Christmas tree—presents that actually benefited the entire family, though Billy was all too excited to receive them as gifts.

When I ran out of ornaments, Billy picked out a presidential brigade box of cars, limos, security cars, planes and other trinkets. The box cost about $30, but it was filled with 15 to 20 potential presents inside. Each time Billy used the potty, I allowed him to pick out a new vehicle from the box.

I am very happy to report that this ploy worked like a charm. Now, Billy has been using the potty without gifts for the past week and a half. We still have toys left in the box, too.

So, instead of making food seem special and putting what we nourish ourselves with on a pedestal, opt for non-edible rewards like Matchbox cars, temporary tattoos, stickers, cool underwear, or Polly Pocket pieces. If you use food as a reward, you may end up sending the wrong message: that you have to earn food or that food is a treat for good behavior.

Remember to teach your children that food is food—nothing more, nothing less. As parents, it is our responsibility to make sure our children understand this concept if we want to prevent disordered and/or secretive eating in their future.

Do you offer your children rewards for certain behaviors or accomplishments? If so, what do you typically reward them with that could be useful for other moms out there?

One Lick Rule

So the RD in me knows that you’re not supposed to force a child to eat something that they find icky or are completely uninterested in. But as a mom, there are times when I simply can’t fathom allowing Billy and Bobby to declare that they don’t like a food they’ve never tried. (You’ll have to recognize that since I work with many clients who struggle with eating disorders, I’m particularly determined to ensure that my own kids never feel as though they’re deprived.)

To be fair, I’m not referring to some obscure super-nut from Brazil. I’m not even asking them to try some meaty or fishy flavor like beef or salmon. For the purposes of today’s blog, all I wanted was a little bite of a cucumber. Apparently, even that was too ambitious.

For a while, I was using what I like to call the “one bite” rule. You’re probably familiar with it, when you set the precedent that your child must take a small bite of food—just enough to get a taste. The problem is when they have to swallow or even put the new food in their mouths (my boys).

So instead, I tried tweaking the one bite rule to allow Billy and Bobby to spit out foods they didn’t like. This works well for many of my clients. However with my boys it was still a relentless effort as they spit everything out or again will not even put the food in their mouths.

Now, I’ve moved on to the one lick rule—a tactical technique I’m quickly falling in love with. Whereas a bite of food can seem overwhelming and forceful to a child, apparently, my kids are much more willing to lick things. Who knew?

This past weekend, we were away in Hamptons. After a nice nature walk, the boys and I had worked up quite an appetite, and since I didn’t pack lunch or snacks (I normally do since, ideally, a hike would present the perfect opportunity to introduce foods like trail mix or a new fruit), we somehow ended up, to the boys’ contentment, at a pizzeria.

Of course, Bobby didn’t just want a slice of pizza; he also pointed to a brownie in the showcase and decided that he wanted that too. (Remember: Everything in moderation.) I told the boys they could share the brownie after they’d eaten (not finished) their pizza.

My husband and I, on the other hand, ordered a salad and pizza topped with veggies. The salad was by no means nutritious or fancy (it was made with iceberg lettuce, olives, locally grown tomatoes, cucumbers and homemade dressing), but it was nevertheless amazingly delicious for a simple pizzeria salad.

Naturally, my husband and I offered the boys some veggies from our plate, to which they matter-of-factly replied, “No.” Of course they said no. When it comes to vegetables, they always say no.

Implementing my new theory, I replied: “Well, how about just licking a cucumber slice.” They did.

The results? Billy scrunched his nose, while Bobby didn’t protest. And when they didn’t erupt in tears, the mommy in me—not the RD—decided to ask the boys to eat a very small piece of cucumber.

I proceeded to cut half of one piece into quarters and told Billy and Bobby that they needed to eat a tiny sliver if they wanted their brownie. I know this sounds wrong. But as mom, I have to think that if I don’t push—at least sometimes—my kids may never get past licking new foods to a place where they’re comfortable eating them. Also, they need to eat foods with higher nutrition most of the time and less nutrition less of the time.

Bobby obliged and ate the cucumber without a fuss. (By the way, he also happily licked a shard of lettuce too.) He made a face, but he ate it; and while he didn’t seem to enjoy the quarter-of-a-half-of-a-cucumber-slice, he didn’t seem to hate it either. Small success? I think so.

As planned, after finishing most of his pizza, I gave Bobby his portion of the brownie. He ate about a quarter of it before losing interest. (I wrapped up the rest of the brownie for Bobby and snuck it into his snack bag Monday morning. He told me he didn’t want it—so I ate it!)

Unlike Bobby, Billy made faces and squirmed in a terribly dramatic fashion. Sometimes I think he likes to make a fuss for attention and control. He tossed the licked cucumber back into the salad, slobber and all, and cleverly dropped pieces on the floor. I think, in total, he ate one of the cucumber quarters. All we could do was minimize how much attention we gave him.

Billy went on to eat the entire pizza slice plus a few more bites of another, as well as half of his brownie. He gave the remaining half back to me and hasn’t asked for it since. (Good thing, since I also ate his leftovers last night.)

So, for better or for worse, I made the boys lick and then eat a tiny piece of cucumber.  As any good RD would, I attempted to maintain as neutral an environment as possible during the entire fiasco, ignoring their actions and instead continuing in our conversation.

This week, I plan to pick up more cucumbers at the market.  While I won’t make the boys eat (or lick) a piece, I will put them on the table so that they continue to gain exposure to the foods they don’t typically nosh on.

Have you ever tried the “one bite” or “one lick” rule? Which seemingly normal and neutral foods do your children refuse to eat, and how have you overcome their behavior?