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)







 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?”


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? 

The Hamburger Bun (minus the hamburger)

They boys absolutely love to go food shopping with me. So when it’s time to restock the kitchen, Billy and Bobby hop into the double stroller, and the three of us take a nice long walk to the Whole Foods in Tribeca (my favorite of their Manhattan locations).

It’s not just the boys who benefit from our little shopping excursions either; I love sharing this experience too, since it gives them the opportunity to pick out all their favorite foods while getting a taste for all the beautiful fruits and veggies on display. Quirky fun fact: They also love checking out ostrich and emu eggs.

While perusing the supermarket aisles, the boys usually grab household staples off the shelves like Kashi Heart to Heart, Laughing Cow cheese and hummus. But on our last trip, Bobby decided to pull one out of left field and toss hamburgers buns into the cart. Hamburger buns?

Of course, my gut reaction was, “Ugh, why can’t my kids try a fruit or vegetable instead of another form of bread?” It wasn’t long before I came to my senses though, and thought, “Well, why not?”

I asked Bobby what he would use the rolls for (considering he doesn’t eat hamburgers), to which he innocently replied, “peanut butter.” Case closed. We bought them.

That night, I decided to take advantage of the rolls to whip up a “grilled chicken sandwich”—a hearty and wholesome meal I knew Bobby would enjoy. (I also knew getting him to try it would be a challenge. More on that to come.)

To create my masterful meal, I simply placed Bell & Evans breaded chicken tenders between the whole-wheat buns and slathered on some ketchup. As predicted, Bobby protested, screaming that he didn’t like it even though he hadn’t taken a bite yet.

Standing in the dining room, Bobby glared at the sandwich as if it were crawling with bugs. “You like all of these foods individually,” I told him. “Just try it.” It’s true; Bobby likes chicken and ketchup and bread. The idea that he could be so repulsed by the combination of all three ingredients was not beyond comprehension.

It wasn’t easy, but after a bit of gentle encouragement, I saw Bobby out of the corner of my eye as he walked over to the once disgusting sandwich and took a bite. And you know what? He did like it! In fact, Bobby liked the sandwich so much that he grabbed the remains and brought it with him into the living room, chomping away while watching TV.

Like I’ve said before, I’m by no means perfect. But on that fateful evening, Bobby and I actually accomplished something: he tried—and approved of—a new combination of food. It was a triumph in my mind.

Would I have preferred if he ate his chicken sandwich in the kitchen, at a table, near a napkin and while my husband and I, instead of staring at the TV? Yes. But sometimes, especially when dealing with a fussy eater, you have to pick your battles.

Do your kids claim to hate foods before trying them? How did you coax them into taking a bite? 


You know that quote about how the shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot? In a way, I’m a lot like the shoemaker. Let me explain.

Hi, I’m Laura. I’m a full-time Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, a social savvy New Yorker, and most importantly, a mom of two fabulous kids. Two fabulous, very picky kids who are tough to please come mealtime!

Professionally, I specialize in eating disorder prevention and recovery, weight management, family health and diabetes. So as you can imagine, I’m constantly helping moms much like myself to understand how they can make small behavioral changes in order to raise children who appreciate the value of nutritious, fulfilling foods—at least most of the time.

My husband and I do the best we can to foster this same mindset in our own household. Our philosophy is simple. In so few words, food is just that—food. An apple is an apple, and chocolate is chocolate. “Good” and “bad” foods don’t exist in my home or office, nor do right and wrong, or perfect and imperfect body types. (Beware: The word “fat” is practically taboo; all who enter know this.)

But let’s be honest here. Instilling these ideals is no easy task in this fast-paced, image-obsessed world, even for a mommy RD.

Which brings me to why I decided to start this blog:

Reason 1: My three-year-old son, Billy, won’t eat bananas unless they come from a fruit vendor on the city street. He prefers hummus with spelt pretzels for dinner and dried mango to snack on. While this sounds like a well-rounded toddler, Billy rejects pasta, meat and a lot of typical “American” foods. While, in true New Yorker fashion, he’ll never reject a slice of pizza (yes, my kids are allowed pizza in moderation), he’s nearly impossible when dining out.

Reason 2: My five year old son, Bobby, was every mother and RD’s dream. He seriously ate everything. I made him homemade organic baby food; and he loved grown-up flavors like sweet potatoes, ground turkey and beef, tomato sauce and oatmeal. Now, he won’t eat any of this. Like many finicky five-year-olds, Bobby loves macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jam, and only two flavors of ice cream. Chips, cake and crackers are verboten—that’s his choice, not mine.

So there you have it. These are my kids, and this is my family. We are far from perfect and, despite my professional insight, every day is a new culinary adventure.

What I’ve come to realize is that, whether you’re a New York mom or a Midwest dad, raising a child to have a neutral mindset toward food and body image can be a struggle for any parent. The line of “moderation” is a fine one to walk, and yet it’s one of the most important responsibilities we have as parents.

My hope is for you, my reader, to be able to learn from my own experiences in the kitchen—the successes, the challenges and the comedic anecdotes—as a dedicated RD and mom. Follow along, and keep a notepad handy. Eventually, I hope that you can find it easier, more fun and less overwhelming to nourish your own children. Because, at the end of the day, it’s about working together to explore the best ways that we can all raise healthy and happy eaters.