Help! My Child is a Picky Eater!

Dr. Heather Maguire is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and the author of the parent training manual, Get Ready… Get Set… Go! It’s Time to Create Behavior Change! As the mother of two young children, she applies her knowledge of behavioral science to everyday parenting. Visit her website for more information.

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Help! My Child is a Picky Eater!
By Dr. Heather Maguire

Kids, food, and behavior… Where should I even start? A story from my own childhood comes to mind. When I was a toddler, I decided that the only food I wanted to eat was saltine crackers. Being a stubborn individual even at such a young age, I gave my mother a run for her money. She offered me peanut butter and jelly, but I said, “No!” She put cereal in front of me, but I refused to touch it. At dinnertime I refused to even look at the spaghetti she had made. In situations like this, what’s a parent to do?! Now that I’m a mother myself, I have come to realize that food can be one of the most challenging parts of parenting. As parents, we are charged with caring for the health and wellbeing of our kids, but it is not possible to force children to eat what they do not want to eat. No parent wants his or her children to “starve,” so we are tempted to cave in to our their requests. Recently I overheard a mother explain that her pediatrician recommended letting her toddler snack on whatever he wanted during the day, as long as she supplemented his nutrition with a popular meal replacement beverage. I’m not saying there aren’t cases where extreme measures are warranted, but to me this sounded like a horrible long-term solution to picky eating! Looking through the lens of applied behavior analysis, here are six strategies that have helped me tame the beast of the picky eater in my own home. I hope they will help you, too!

  1. Say goodbye to packaged snacks

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “If they’re hungry, they’ll eat.” This is very simple, but very true! One way to encourage children to eat is to make sure they’re actually hungry when mealtime comes around. This may mean eating less during the periods in between meals. Now I am not suggesting that you cut out snacking all together, but you can control what snacks you offer your children. Personally, I have made the decision to only offer fruits and veggies as snack options in between meals. As opposed to snacks like chips, cookies, and crackers, fresh produce is less likely to curb one’s appetite for more than a short while. I am not saying you have to cut out packaged foods completely, but it may be better to serve these items right after meals or just occasionally as a special treat rather than as snacks.

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  1. Timing is everything

As parents, we often have to be strategic in interactions with our children. If Sofia is feeling under the weather, didn’t sleep well the night before, and had a rough day at school, it is probably not be the right day to offer her a new food or try to get her to eat a food she has previously rejected. Sounds obvious, right? Well, let me share where parents often go wrong. Rather than using this strategy proactively, they use it reactively. Once they place food in front of Sofia and she refuses to try it, then they give her a preferred food. Unfortunately this often results in a pattern of food refusal that can hang around long after the bad day has been forgotten. Therefore, try to prevent food refusal by offering preferred foods on the hard days, but do your best not to cave in once undesired behavior has been displayed.

  1. Dangle the carrot

This is a simple, yet scientifically verified truth that can be applied to several areas of life. In food terms it equates to, “After you eat your vegetables, then you can have dessert.” Now, this does not mean that you need to offer dessert or other junk food to your children on a daily basis. Rather, choose foods that you feel comfortable offering to your child on a consistent basis (e.g., juice, crackers, popcorn, etc.). In order for this to work, there are two key things to keep in mind. First, the food has to be something your child really likes. Second, this strategy will work best if you keep your “carrot” valuable by not offering it to your child in other circumstances.

  1. Sometimes easier is better

This strategy is specifically geared towards younger toddlers who are still developing fine motor skills. As a human species, we are more likely to do things when they are easier, and it takes more motivation to do things that are difficult. Therefore, even if your son or daughter can independently eat, you may want to help them… at least with their first few bites. You may find that after the first few bites your child eats independently. Why is that so, you ask? Without getting too technical, food is naturally rewarding when we are hungry and so our bodies encourage us to keep eating until we are full.


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Start a new “Family Meal” weekly tradition… beginning with Thanksgiving this year!

Start a new “Family Meal” weekly tradition… beginning with Thanksgiving this year!
Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, Mom and Bitsy’s RD

*This post was originally posted on the Bitsy’s Brainfood blog.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the idea of family meals surely must be on your mind. For many people, Thanksgiving conjures warm feelings because it’s consistently about meals featuring family members, good friends, and yummy food. Are these the same thoughts that come to mind when thinking about family meals? Are you even able to have family meals especially during the regular work/school week? Most people now know that family meals are not only beneficial but also very much encouraged by the experts. How does this translate to your daily life? What does the latest research recommend? How should you, as parents and food consumers, interpret this information?

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Fortunately, there has been quite a bit of research of late. Some of the most noteworthy include Project EAT (I-III)Purdue University’s Family Meals Spell SUCCESS, and studies coming from research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). We surely know that family meals can be difficult to arrange—especially with working parents, kids’ afterschool activities, strained family relationships, and possibly even the aversion to foods served at family meals. But the statistics drawn from multiple studies via Project EAT have found that adolescents sharing family meals had higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, plus the mineral calcium, while drinking less soda. In addition, the more frequently the family meals occurred during adolescence, the more likely these individuals later would have shared household meals as young adults. Family meals were also linked to higher academic performance, greater emotional wellbeing and a reduced risk of using unhealthy behaviors for weight control1.

Overall Well Being

According to CASA surveys:

  • Teens who eat dinner with their parents twice a week or less are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes, three times more likely to smoke marijuana, and nearly twice as likely to drink as those who eat dinner with their parents six or seven times a week2.
  • Teens who eat frequent family dinners are also less likely than other teens to have sex at young ages and get into fights; are at lower risk for thoughts of suicide; and are likelier to do better in school. This is true regardless of a teen’s gender, family structure, or family socioeconomic level2.
  • Teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to be emotionally content, work hard at school, and have positive peer relationships, not to mention healthier eating habits2.



Family Meals spell SUCCESS further supports these results. A study by Dr. Catherine Snow at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education notes that conversations occurring around the family table teach children more vocabulary and forms of discourse than they learn when you read to them2.

Reader’s Digest survey revealed  – a teen eating meals with their family was a stronger predictor of academic success than whether they lived with one or both parents. Research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) and others has found a striking relationship between frequency of family meals and grades2.


Mental Well Being

When family meal research is further analyzed, the most evident benefit of family meals is decreased depressive symptoms3.

Ultimately, we need more information on the actual frequency of meals, the length of each meal, who is present at the meals, and/or if the research is simply correlated with having frequent meals or truly a direct outcome of family meals. Is it possible that people who engage in family meals have specific characteristics that are different from those in families who do not engage in family meals? The answer is yes. More long-term research identifying the above details is needed3.

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Putting Family Meals In Practice

But what we do know? It’s estimated that three or more family meals, consistent family meals (i.e.: every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), mealtimes with positive interactions and no TV are favorable…and most likely lead to the most beneficial outcomes for children3. So do your best to get some type of meal on the table and enjoy the time with your family. If one shared meal is possible, start here but make it weekly and don’t forget to turn off the TV and your iPhone!! Here at Bitsy’s we don’t strive for perfection, but we do strive for family time and healthier food for all families.

Are sharing family meals reasonable and achievable in your household? As working moms, we know this is incredibly challenging. Can you share your suggestions with the  readers?



  1. “Epidemiology & Community Health Research.” Epidemiology Community Health Research. University of Minnesota, 2013. Web. 06 Nov. 2013.
  2. “Family Meals Spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S.” Purdue University Center for Families’ Promoting Family Meals Project. Purdue University, n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.
  3. Cook, Eliza, and Rachel Dunifon. “Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference?”Parenting in Context. Cornell University College of Human Ecology, 2012. Web. 2013.


*This post was originally posted on the Bitsy’s Brainfood blog.

Tips to Communicate with Your Teens

Tips to Communicate with Your Teens
By Guest Blogger, Elyssa Ackerman, LCSW and Parent Coach

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Communicating with your teen can really test your patience.  One minute your teen is asking you for money or permission to go to a happening hang with friends, the next minute they slam the door and say “Get out!”  It is no wonder parents of teens find themselves commiserating, venting, or clenching their fists in frustration.  However, as teens work at their job of trying to figure out their identity, the parent’s job is to parent with a plan in place and avoid reacting to their teen’s moods (or their own).


Teens are irrational, and, according to Dr. Mike Bradley, “Adolescents are temporarily brain damaged.” The parts of their brains currently in development and responsible for the emotional control, impulse restraint, and rational decision making aren’t fully formed and connected.  What does this mean?  Teens are confrontational.  They are hormonal.  They are stressed out managing their social, physical, emotional, and intellectual lives.  Parents have to be the bigger people and act rationally.  Parents need to stay calm, reduce daily battles, and let the teen wrestle with his/her feelings in front of a wise, calm adult.  Do not hold grudges and be big enough to say “Sorry” when you lose it.  When teens are rude, disrespectful, and nasty, practice saying “ I will not speak to you when you are disrespectful, come to me when we can talk civilly.”  Sound like a big challenge? It is.
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The truth is that teens still need us to think the world of them.  It is easy for us to highlight what teens do wrong, so try implementing two positives for every negative.  Refrain from advice-giving and moralizing, and listen, REALLY LISTEN.  Put down your phones, don’t text while they are talking to you, email can wait.  Even if you disagree, let them talk.  They need to vent.  If given the space to do so, they will come to TRUST you.  Ahhhh, trust, the magic word.  Because in the end, as teens experiment with life and all that awaits, the choices they will make are impacted by their relationship with you.  Heavy? You betcha.  You are the most important role model for your teen.  Educate them over and over again on sex, drugs, violence, and alcohol, and be honest and straightforward.  Yes, pot dispensaries abound, but smoking weed at this time in their life couldn’t happen at a worse time, as their brains are on fire finishing the job of developing into the adults that they are craving to be.


Communicate with your teen by setting clear and consistent limits.  Be matter of fact about his/her curfew, responsibilities in the home, and your drug and alcohol use (or no use) policy.  Enforce limits through incentives, not ultimatums, and encourage them to act responsibly, and they will attain the freedom they so desire by demonstrating their willingness to do their part.  Discipline without violence, try not to yell, and let them negotiate.  Negotiating is a useful skill that they need practice while at home.  If rules get broken, let them play a part in deciding upon the consequences. Short-term consequences work best.


Cut your teens and yourself some slack.  Keep trying to reach them, invite them to dinner or a horror movie, or make them a cup of tea at night without asking anything in return.  If they see that you are still there for them and are trying to maintain a connection, the payoffs are priceless.  One day they will venture out on their own, succeed in their aspirations, and have the tools that they need to be successful adults (and maybe, eventually, parents).


When To Eat Dinner During Sports Season

Real Mom Question: As afterschool activities start up again, when should I feed my kids dinner—4:30 or 8:30?

Real Mom Answer: Serve dinner before 4:30, prior to their evening activity, and a mini-meal when they get home.


How do we feed our kids when extracurricular activities like team practices and athletic schedules get in the way?

First and foremost, just do your best! Meals do not have to taste or be perfect. If you can get your children to eat real, wholesome kinds of food at dinner and throughout the day, then you’re already ahead of the game.

Try serving dinner immediately after school, perhaps around 3:30, which will enable your child to digest what they’ve eaten before running around. An early dinner is a great way to fuel your child for whatever activity awaits them, and if they’re hungry afterward, you can then serve a smaller, “mini meal” following their practice or game—presumably sometime around 8:30.

If possible, consider serving a full family dinner to all of your children at the same time, even if it’s earlier in the evening. Not only will doing so help to foster the importance of eating family meals together, but it’ll also save you time in the kitchen and eliminate the need for multiple meals.

If your children are on different schedules, don’t fret. Again, do your best. Think about each child’s individual nutritional needs and which nutrients are most important for them to consume. A couple of ways to ensure that your children acquire the appropriate nutrients are:

1.    Start early. Make sure to include wholesome ingredients at dinnertime just in case your child is too tired after working up a sweat or wants to join the rest of the team for victory ice cream.

2.    The big picture. Think back to what your child has eaten all day. Did their menu include wholesome grains, leaner proteins and healthier fats? If not, try to incorporate any missing elements in to dinner or their mini meal. If that’s too difficult, it’s not a big deal. Simple squeeze it in to tomorrow’s menu.

3.    Plan ahead. Make meals ahead of time. You can even pack a thermos filled with hearty one-pot dishes or serve up quick frozen meals that you’ve prepared in advance, that way, you don’t have to think too much in the heat of the moment. (For inspiration, check out my “Make-Ahead Meals” and options for vegetarians that can be whipped up in 15 minutes or less on Modern Moms.)

If your child is hungry for a post-game snack, then a quick mini meal should suffice. Remember, bedtime isn’t far off, so use this time to help your child refuel following vigorous activity and be considerate of portions. One option is to make a homemade smoothie. My boys love a berry smoothie I adapted from Driscoll’s Berries, but if you decide to blend up your own, be sure to add a protein source and eliminate any extra sugar the recipe calls for. Other quick and tasty choices are a bowl of soup, which is both filling and hydrating, or whole-grain cereal (like muesli) with Greek yogurt and fruit.

Last but not least, be mindful of your own diets too on these especially busy evenings. Whatever you do, try not to fall prey to the fast food joints that tempt you from the side of the road while driving the kiddies to and from practice. Instead, bring food from home along with you, even it means eating another sandwich or missing a family meal, and remind yourself that none of those greasy ingredients will truly provide you with the power you need to be the super mom that you are.

Is Your Tween Hiding Her Lunch?

REAL GRANDMOM ASKS: My 11 year old granddaughter is hiding her sandwiches and lunchables that are packed for her lunch in her room; sometimes before she even leaves for school. She takes a bite out of the sandwich or lunchable and puts in back in the container and seals it up, then hides it in her room. She doesn’t have an explanation for this and you can tell she is embarrassed when you talk to her about it. None of the food is new or disliked, that is why this is such a puzzle to us. My daughter is going bonkers over this and I simply don’t know how to advice her. Maddie has hidden evidence of “sneaked” food before when she was very young but this is a new behavior.What do you think? Thanks,Debbie A., a perplexed Grammy



Thank you Debbie for your heartfelt question.  I am sure many other grandparents and parents share in your sincere concern for both their daughters and their  granddaughters. There are a few things you can do without alarming your granddaughter. Be sure to keep this a confidential as possible. It is  a very sensitive subject and privacy will help to ensure your granddaughter’s privacy and thus minimize any shame or embarrassment. I will answer the question directed at a mom (or dad) since mom (or the primary caregiver) will need to do the follow through.

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In general when any tween is hiding food, consider checking in with the school nurse or guidance counselor (in private) to see if your tween is:

A)   Eating a different type of food at school?

B)   Eating any lunch at school?

C)   Attending lunch at school (some students hide during the lunch period to avoid social anxiety, bullying or to enable skipping the meal for restriction purposes)?

This will give you a better idea of what is happening for your daughter.  There are many things to consider such as is your child:

A)   Embarrassed to bring a home packed lunch?

B)   Perhaps your child doesn’t like the way their food smells?

C)   Perhaps your child is uncomfortable with their changing tween body?

D)   Has anyone said anything to your tween to make them feel shameful of their body?

E)   Is your child restricting their intake in effort to gain a false sense of control due to changes in friends, family, school…?

F)    Is your tween newly aware of her body and thus restricting her intake to prevent it from maturation?

Next and most importantly, sit down with this wonderful child and let them know you are there to listen. Let them know you promise not to be angry (if you truly do) and can help to support them. Validation is the most important piece. Moms don’t need to solve every problem rather we just need to listen.  Tell your tween you love them and are there for them when they feel ready to share. Giving your tween an unbiased outlet and a few hugs may get them to be honest with you.

If your tween is not ready to confide, you can also offer to take the tween food shopping to see if that helps to resolve the issue. This may give you a better sense of what is going on if your tween actually takes you on the offer.

If the issue continues, it is best to have your tween see a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (therapist specializing in eating disorders) or a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (RD specializing in eating disorders). This accreditation is only given to experts trained in the  prevention and treatment of eating disorders by the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (

A Look into Beauty

A Look into Beauty
By Lauren Cohen, MS Nutrition and Dietetics Candidate

Hey moms and dads, with bathing suit season around the corner, we need to be sensitive about our children’s body image. Read on for our Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services student volunteer’s take on body image.

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Google must read my emails—that is the only explanation.  The pop-up advertisements that I regularly endure are riddled with images of weight loss, new diet fads, and ideal ways to get fit and fab in time for bikini season. Even with everything I know about nutrition and health, it can be overwhelming and tempting.


Body image is a big component of health. It’s easy to feel pressure to lose weight or tone-up when every magazine in the stand has “The Best Way to Cut 10 inches in 10 Days!” The Internet can be a firestorm for Photoshopped images of celebrities and friends trying to reach a threshold for beauty and health. In a now infamous quote from Cindy Crawford, she laments how she “wished [she] looked like Cindy Crawford.” The most important fact we can take with us as we move forward is that images on a screen do not reflect reality. They are airbrushed, red-eye removed, filtered and can only speak to a flash of a moment. Social media pages like Instagram and Pinterest are created with the sole purpose of making our lives appear beautiful through a filter. And while they continue to be useful tools in our professional and personal development, a certain type of pressure comes along with the territory—a pressing need for beauty.


It would be of little value to try and work a definition of beauty into this blog post when its reach extends so far beyond our simple understanding of it. I like to think of beauty as a complex, personal, and intimate experience of appreciation for something. But even that is too specific and too general at the same time.  So when photos and quotes surfaced of a girl calling herself The Human Barbie, I felt a compulsive need to learn more.


Valeria Lukyanova, a 5’ 7” Ukrainian Model, boasts measurements of 34-18-34. This is a very dramatic hourglass shape. Just to put that into perspective, Judy Garland (one of the many women Lukyanova cites as an iconic image of beauty) was 4’11” and measured out to 33-25-31. Lukyanova began to pop up onto my radar through ads on body image; I didn’t click on anything until a quote appeared from a GQ Magazine interview.


“Everyone wants a slim figure. Everyone gets breasts done. Everyone fixes up their face if it’s not ideal, you know? Everyone strives for the golden mean. It’s global now. Remember how many beautiful women there were in the 1950s and 1960s, without any surgery? And now, thanks to degeneration, we have this.”

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After this I was hooked. Her sweeping generalizations and overwhelming misunderstanding of health (and humans) was intoxicating. How did her opinion of beauty become so superficial and why does she assume we all feel this way? I loved my Barbie Dolls growing up; does this mean I was programmed to believe that beauty is strictly superficial? Is Barbie a sin against body image? Or does an interest in her just mean I loved playing dress up?


Certainly Barbie can take some of the blame—the same way that pop-culture and our Instagram accounts can—in that they generate an ideal concept of physical beauty. It forces us to think that beauty is a series of dimensions that, if we work out enough and become an Breatharian (someone who lives on air and sunlight alone as Lukyanova preaches) we will attain the ideal look. It perpetuates a theory that beauty and wellness is something that we can see rather than feel, experience, or share.


Beauty is one part physical but a great deal more emotional. Consider Disney’s newest film Frozen. While the film still features two slender female leads, it takes a bold step towards understanding the emotional elements of beauty. It’s the story of two sisters; one of which harbors a secret talent to freeze the world around her. While at first, it seemed like an ugly and dangerous compartment of an otherwise beautiful girl, she was able to overcome her fear and learn to love this unique trait that was distinctly her. It wasn’t just beauty she could see, it was beauty she could feel. It was a love for herself, just as she was.


So how can we sift through the ads and the images around us? The trick has to be learning to strike a balance. These ads aren’t going anywhere. We aren’t about to delete our Facebook pages, or Instagram accounts. We are not going to stop purchasing People Magazine. There will always be a Heidi Montag or Valeria Lukyanova (and don’t worry, men, there is also a Human Ken!) We have to remember that when we look at them, we are not looking into mirrors. Keeping in the very front of our minds that beauty and wellness aren’t only defined by how we look and our body’s dimensions but by a combination of who we are and how we choose to conduct our lives and choices.


How do you think beauty and health is portrayed in social media and pop culture? What changes would you like to see made to improve the concept of beauty and wellness?


A personal blog on being a triplet…a triplet with an eating disorder!
A blog by Courtney Darsa, Dietetic Intern at the University of Delaware


I am a triplet.


The first reaction most people had when I told them I was a triplet was: “Oh my god, that is so cool!” Yes, being a triplet does have its perks and certainly makes for a unique experience. But for me, being a triplet came with its downfalls as well. I have a brother and a sister. It was particularly hard for me to have a sister the same age as I was. We had the same friends; we were involved in the same activities—and even worse—we shared a room! We were never apart. It felt like a constant competition. This was particularly true when it came to appearance. My “disordered thoughts” relentlessly told me that my sister was thinner and prettier than I was. I assumed everyone liked her better than they liked me. I felt as though I was living in my sister’s shadow and that I had to be exactly like her—“perfect.”

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This perfectionism caused me to become obsessed with losing weight because I wanted to be just like her. I started to run track in high school. I even took it to another level by running more than what was required—longer than the other sprinters. I was burning calories and that’s what mattered. I was a sprinter, but not for long. My coaches quickly saw my “love” for running and introduced me to distance running. And so began my career as a cross-country and long-distance runner.


I wanted to be thin and “perfect” like my triplet sister. So I asked my mom to take me to a registered dietitian early in my sophomore year. I wanted to come up with a regimented meal plan that would benefit my training—aka lose weight! Unfortunately, the RD provided me with a meal plan that helped me to lose weight and further my obsession with calories. This caused me to spiral in the wrong direction. Due to my obsession about wanting to be thin and never really feeling good enough, I found myself losing weight at a more drastic pace than ever. But I was accomplishing my goal and becoming more like my sister. To my absolute amazement, I was receiving compliments about my new appearance. I was finally getting the attention I had longed for! However, I was not healthy. I was obsessing and isolating.


This continued until my very close friends and, much to my surprise, my sister stepped up and told me that they were worried about me. They were concerned that I might have an eating disorder. Of course, I felt attacked and totally denied it. I even wondered: “How could they think such a thing?” I’m fine! Well, my friends and my sister didn’t think so! They went directly to my parents and told them how worried they were. They thought I had an eating disorder. Unfortunately, my parents, who in hindsight were obviously in denial, ignored the subject. I too, was in denial!


I soon found myself training very intensely for my upcoming cross country season, sometimes running up to 60 miles a week. My undiagnosed eating disorder became worse. I was severely underweight and always exhausted. I slowly started to see my performance decline, but chose to ignore the signs. My performance was negatively affected and my relationships with family and friends were compromised. I was irritable, moody and depressed. Being perfect and skinny like my sister was not all it was cracked up to be! Unfortunately, I had dug myself too deep a hole to easily get myself out. At the end of the cross-country season, my coach noticed my eating disorder’s effects on my running performance, pulled me aside and told me that I had to stop training until my weight was “stable enough to handle the training intensity.”

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Running had become my whole life; I was utterly devastated. Slowly but with much resistance, I gained enough weight to start running again—but my self-esteem continued to unravel. I hated the way I looked and my disordered thoughts continued to tell me that I wasn’t good enough. I had achieved my goal of being thinner; however, I was far from perfect. I was still living in my sister’s shadow. For the remainder of high school, I was able to maintain my weight at a “stable/higher” level, yet I felt like an emotional mess. I restricted and binged. I realized I had no tools to express my emotions and that food had gotten intertwined. I was so obsessed with food that I decided to major in nutrition and dietetics in college. No one could convince me otherwise!


It didn’t take long for my new college friends to notice my unusual eating habits; they approached me in the fall of my sophomore year—and encouraged me to utilize the student-counseling center. With much anticipation and great fear, even though my friends accompanied me, I met with a psychologist where I discussed my personal issues with eating, body image and low self-esteem.


I was diagnosed with EDNOS—Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. This roused so many mixed emotions—anger, relief, shock and fear—which I still had no idea how to express. After attending many sessions however, my thought processes began changing. I was determined to get better and to start developing a healthier relationship with food. I took more steps than ever to move onto my personal road to recovery.


I began journaling everyday and confiding in my close friends. I was learning to express my emotions. To truly commit to recovery, I also had to do the hardest thing—tell my family what I was going through. This was not an easy task, but I readied myself by practicing during my therapy sessions. I told my family about my eating disorder and my feelings. Again, to my surprise, they were extremely supportive and understanding. Knowing that I had their love gave me the strength to continue through the recovery process. Most especially, having my sister at my side gave me even more courage to push through to recovery. During my senior year of college, I continued with weekly therapy and worked on separating my emotions from food. I learned to separate the eating disorder voice and my own real voice.


Being able to differentiate between “the two voices” allowed me to develop a much healthier relationship with food. I started to slowly take on the task of eating “fear foods.” This was a gradual and difficult process, but through much work and determination, my eating habits improved. I began to establish a neutral relationship with food. I learned that food is for nutrition and does not determine who you are as a person. Separating food and feelings was the key for me in my recovery. I was finally able to start to recognize my own voice!


Perhaps the best thing I discovered during my recovery was who I really was. For the first time in my life, I was no longer living in my sister’s shadow. I learned that the way you look has nothing to do with who you are as a person. What you have to offer to the world is far beyond your physical appearance; it’s who you are on the inside that truly matters. By finding out who I truly was, I was able to strengthen my relationships with my friends and my family. Most important, I was able to develop a close relationship with my sister.


I’m now one year out of college and finishing up my dietetic internship. It’s true when people say that so much can change in just a few years. I was lucky that I forced myself to major in something that I ended up loving. Learning how to have a healthy relationship with food was so important and crucial for my own recovery. Due to my own struggles and my eventual recovery from an eating disorder (and as a future registered dietitian), I’m determined to help individuals grappling with eating disorders to develop their own healthy relationships with food. I also know that it’s important for all dietitians to screen their clients for disordered eating and eating disorders. Being healthy is not about being a certain weight. Being healthy is a balance that honors your body.

Mother’s Day Dinner

Mother’s Day Dinner:
A perfect opportunity for every picky kids’ food issues to surface.
By Laura Cipullo, RD CED CEDRD CDN and Mom

For Mother’s Day, we went to Marc Forgione’s American Cut—a very fancy steak place. The décor was beautiful and masculine. The food—well, just incredible, as expected! Normally, I would not bring my kids to such an expensive restaurant but they are usually pretty cheap eaters. And it was Mother’s Day as well as our family’s celebration of my birthday which was the day before.



First, we were served an “everything” biscuit with vegetable cream cheese. The boys quickly grabbed the biscuits (despite all of the seeds on top) and took giant bites. And they both quickly realized they didn’t like what they were tasting! Not one bit! That was the end of their bread experience for the night. Meanwhile, I thought the biscuits were so delicious that I ate two!


Menu Selection

There was absolutely nothing listed on the menu that my younger son Billy would eat—and, of course, the bread was no longer an option. But oh, there were French fries—something to save the meal! But I was only saved until the fries arrived at our table. They were large slices of potatoes—heavily salted and spicy. Billy did try them, but nope, they were just not his thing. As usual in a situation like this, he sat happily in his seat but ate nothing. We played “tic tac toe” and he loved the evening.

Dinner Served

My older son Bobby had filet mignon. Now, I did not buy him his own steak, rather I know he eats only an ounce of steak at a time so my husband cut him a slice of filet from his dish. Bobby noticed that the meat was softer than usual. He asked if it was a different steak. I explained that it was filet mignon—a very good, very tender cut of meat, thus very soft.


So I watched Bobby performing his normal routine when chewing steak and even chicken. He munched on a bite for what seemed like five to ten minutes. (A homeopathic MD might say this is great as one should be chewing food at least 30 times per bite.) However, I find this similar to a toddler who plans to pocket the food in his/her mouth. Without jumping to any conclusions, I simply observed and he did eventually swallow. I know it’s purely because meat has a different feel and can truly be difficult to chew.


I remember hating steak for this very same reason. Who wants to work that hard to eat? Not me! I don’t even want to debone my fish, nonetheless eat chewy meat. Bobby recognized that this meat was softer and I assumed it meant he’d take a few less chews. Nope! I guess it really is just what it is. I’m just happy he eats some form of high quality (biological value) protein.


I also ordered cavatelli for Bobby. No sauce. No butter. No anything! He ate a few pieces and then said it tasted funny. It sure did; it had butter on it. I wasn’t going to return it though. So I ate it. I asked him to eat a few bites and finish the rest of his steak. And he was content. The boys just really like going to fancy restaurants with great fancy décor. Most especially, they really like the fancy-looking desserts!!


The boys’ favorite time of the meal had finally arrived! Of course, they didn’t want to actually eat the fancy desserts. They just like their desserts to look fancy! Bobby ordered peanut ice cream with chocolate sauce; for Billy, I ordered sweet cream—the closest flavor to vanilla. Billy also decided to eat the peanut brittle that came with his grandparents’ Cracker Jack Sundae. Bobby wouldn’t even try! Mind you, Billy wouldn’t try the cavetalli –or even guacamole when we ate out on Friday night.


Well my super taster, Bobby, noticed right away that he was served the wrong ice cream. They accidently had given him coffee ice cream. And it happened twice! He finally got his peanut ice cream and chocolate sauce. Meanwhile, Billy gleefully spooned up his sweet cream and chocolate sauce. The boys were in ice cream heaven and so was I. I ate the scoops of coffee Stracciatella ice cream!

It was truly a wonderful evening and a positive eating experience too, but…


Two Points:

Despite constant role modeling and their continuous exposure to all foods, my sons purely prefer plain and simple foods. Ironically, it remains beneficial for me to continue the positive food role modeling and exposure to all foods. Why? Because that’s how Bobby began to eat steak and Billy had the desire to try both the bread and the peanut brittle.


So, moms and dads, keep trying to do what you know is best for your kids. Recognize that your food and nutrition efforts are realized in sometimes very small ways over many years of positive reinforcement. You are not wasting your money! When your children don’t eat their meals or don’t like particular foods, you are helping your children create opportunities to neutralize foods and flavors, create positive food memories, and ultimately learn what they truly like to eat.

Food Antics

Food Antics
By: Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN and Mom of two


Is there ever a dull moment in your kitchen? Well, there sure isn’t one in mine! My husband and I have noticed that our older son continuously asks for food all evening long—from dinner on until his bedtime. And he’s not actually asking for food; rather, he’s telling us that he’s hungry. Since Bobby has always been my famously “intuitive eater,” one might readily think: that’s terrific. Just feed the growing boy!


But of course, nothing is as simple as it seems when it comes to food. Bobby is most definitely growing and can easily consume an entire box of mac and cheese with spinach, an apple and a chicken cutlet—and still be hungry! This is completely fine with me if it isn’t every night just before bedtime arrives. What we have noticed, however, is that Bobby is responding to all statements concerning getting ready for bed, or even going to sleep, with “But I’m still hungry.”


Attempting to find out what Bobby is really “hungry” for, I ask him: Do you want more dinner? Would you like a yogurt stick? How about some ice cream? An apple? A yogurt? Maybe a smoothie?

We tried giving him larger dinner portions, serving dessert with dinner and even calling “last round” for kitchen requests. But it never fails to happen just like this…


Last night Bobby was in bed. The family had read books together and we even shared some “silly” time. Just as I was saying goodnight and leaving his room, he said: “But I’m still hungry.” By this point in time, I don’t want to care if my kid is hungry. Either he needs to learn to be more mindful and check in with his belly and brain before bedtime…or he’s really needing and wanting something else!


Now, as I sit here writing…an important concept leaps into my brain: I’m not sure if I ever asked Bobby if he wanted something else. Like a little more time with mom. Or to talk about a bad dream he may have had. Or perhaps he’s just trying to defy the boundaries his dad and I have set. There are so many possibilities in this scenario.


When I consider this difficult situation from an RD’s perspective, I know just what I would suggest to any of my mom clients dealing with this type of issue: “Have a real heart-to-heart talk with your son. Ask him during the day time—at a non-meal moment —what he’s truly feeling and wanting at night.”


There are a variety of life changes that may be affecting Bobby that he, along with his peers as well as adults, is not aware of feeling. Or perhaps he may just be hungry! The lesson for me and my readers is this: Consider creating an open dialogue at a non-food time to find out if the problematic situation is indeed about food—or about feelings. What you learn will surely help you to resolve the issue. Sometimes the answer may be serving more protein and fat with dinner…and sometimes the answer may be spending a special day alone together…just mommy and me.

I’m so glad I was able to give myself a free nutrition session!


And by the way, my younger son Billy told me he eats his fish sticks with his dad because daddy makes him. But he won’t eat them with me! Yep, that’s a whole other can of “gummy” worms! Maybe the subject of my next blog. Of course, don’t forget you can always ask us your questions by submitting them right here:

Positive Interactions: How Friends Affect Our Health

Positive Interactions: How Friends Affect Our Health
By Laura Cipullo, RD CDE CEDRD CDN and Mom

I needed to keep my two boys as active as possible during their spring break from school. My intent was to safeguard their physical health—and my own personal mental health as well! We shared a fun-filled week. Although we did engage in some “brainy” activities like touring the Math Museum, we truly stretched our bodies and minds rock climbing.


Yup, thanks to my wonderful clients (they teach me things too!), I was introduced to indoor rock climbing. I have rock climbed in Colorado but never thought it would become an afternoon activity I could replicate here in NYC. Well…we did it…and will definitely be doing it again.


My “mommy” friend and I rounded up our children, and literally, up they all went! My older son Bobby has always been a little timid about rock climbing. He was about five years old the first time I introduced him to the sport…and he was positively terrified. As you might easily imagine, I was so very disappointed. I had paid for a full semester of mommy and son rock climbing! But now with some extra age plus the addition of his younger brother and his two peers, he just had to become highly self-motivated. Upon our arrival at the rock-climbing venue however, Bobby told me he wasn’t going to climb. Before I could say anything, my friend Abby said: “That’s okay. You can just watch.” Thank goodness she had responded to him first; it influenced me in a very positive way. I casually chimed in: “Yeah, don’t worry, you can just watch.” So, because the pressure had been removed, he decided to do it on his own. He saw the other three kids—including his younger brother Billy—happily putting on their harnesses and clipping in. I think he decided against letting his fears be the cause of his missing out on all of the fun. I also wonder if the fact that his friends were girls, and they were excited to rock climb, had any bearing on his decision. He even told the instructor he wasn’t sure if he was climbing. But, as soon as he saw the girls and Billy go up, he clearly said: “I’m next!” And he truly had the best time!

Wow! What a confidence booster for Bobby and real assurance for me about not pressuring my kids into doing anything they may not immediately embrace. Abby’s (the other mom) demeanor was great. When I thanked her for unknowingly helping me through the difficult earlier moment, she just laughed. And then she told me that if it had been her kids, she too would have been urging them to try and just do it.  So while I was supported by my peer, my older son also was supported by his peers. All four kids were climbing “rock stars”! I was so jealous. Now I’m planning to go back to climb there myself.


After two hours of rock climbing, the kids were famished and the moms were exhausted just from watching. When we all headed out to share dinner, Billy had this wonderfully positive interaction. His little friend was dipping her bread in olive oil with salt and pepper. He simply adores her…and surely was influenced to follow her lead. Playing it very cool, he poured himself some olive oil and sprinkled salt and pepper on it. He dipped his bread with real pride. We moms laughed knowing how the kids had all been such great role models for each other that afternoon and evening. And what a great day the moms had too. My belly laughs, the delight of watching all four kids summit the climbs, plus having another mom to share the experiences with. Easily the best dose of good health ever!


Did you catch Laura on The Daily Meal yesterday? Click on the photo below to hear Laura’s tips and to learn more about her book Healthy Habits!