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LI nutritionists give moms healthy food alternatives

Garden City mother Maureen Cooney reads nutrition labels

Garden City mother Maureen Cooney reads nutrition labels as Jeanne Petti, owner of Real Healthy Family Nutrition, coaches her at Fairway Market in Westbury. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

James Cooney melodramatically informed his mom, Maureen, that she's ruining his life.

How could she do it? The Garden City mom banned the 9-year-old's Skippy peanut butter and substituted an organic brand with less sugar.

What's more, she nixed the marshmallows he put on those sandwiches. She stopped buying Gatorade. She yanked the Frosted Flakes. And, to the chagrin of James' sister, Kate, 7, Mom also put a halt to the after-school Tostitos Hint of Lime tortilla chips habit.

"I'm dying of thirst in this house," James told Mom.

Maureen Cooney expected this mutiny when she hired nutrition coach Jeanne Petti, owner of Real Healthy Family Nutrition, to come into her home and purge her pantry of the less healthful choices that had sneaked onto the Cooney family grocery list. Cooney empathizes with her kids. "Did you ever taste Tostitos Lime? Those things are amazing," Cooney says.

Still, Cooney isn't out to ruin the lives of James, Kate and her youngest, Colin, 3. Instead, she wants to improve and prolong them. And for that, she felt she could use Petti's help.

"We teach them how to walk, we teach them how to use the bathroom," Petti says. "We have to teach them how to eat."


Nutrition coaches who come into people's homes help families by customizing their advice to the habits and likes of family members.

Petti, for instance, offers a four-step program: first, a consultation to discuss goals. Then, a pantry purge. She shows clients why some choices in their cabinets are less than optimal. Step three is a joint trip to Fairway, Whole Foods or Trader Joe's to find alternatives. Step four: new recipes and a weekly meal planning system. Petti charges $650 for the package, but will offer steps a la carte.

Plainview resident Sara Fins also runs a nutrition coaching business, Pondera Health Coaching. She offers a six-month program of two one-hour sessions a month for $1,500 or a three-month program of two sessions a month for $900. Each includes a supermarket trip. She offers a four-week "Jumpstart" of four 30-minute sessions for $300. She will meet with clients by phone if they prefer. She also offers in-home classes, such as making baby food.

Both Petti and Fins are graduates of the one-year, online-based Institute for Integrative Nutrition, based in Manhattan. Both got into the business because they wanted to learn how to best feed their own kids. "I wanted my children to grow up with an instilled sense of how to live a healthy lifestyle," Fins says of Mia, 4, and Milo, 2. Petti, who lives in Westbury, has two children as well, Giulia, 6, and C.J., 3.

Jessica Wisnieski worked with Fins when she was living in East Williston and trying to get pregnant with her first child, now 1. "I had never been in a Whole Foods before," she says. "She teaches you what's worth getting and what's not."


One morning, Petti and Cooney meet at the Fairway in Westbury for the shopping portion. The two pore over bags of tortilla chips to find a substitute for Kate, deciding on Late July brand organic lime-flavored chips. Petti reminds Cooney that package claims such as "all-natural" aren't what matters; what matters are the ingredients.

Petti steers Cooney to Applegate hot dogs, and confirms that she should buy organic peppers.

What about drinks? Cooney asks. The kids want juice boxes. "We want the first ingredient to be water," Petti says. They choose Honest Kids brand.

Cooney expects some of the substitutions will fall flat. She already tried unsuccessfully to get the kids to switch away from ketchup with sugar, even admitting to putting the new ketchup into a Heinz bottle to try to fool them.

It didn't work. As soon as James tasted it, he said, "What's wrong with the ketchup?"


One day after school, James, Kate and Colin discuss choices that work.

Kate's happy with organic strawberries, watermelon and oranges. The latest peanut butter attempt, Brad's Organic, might be acceptable. "I didn't really reject it," James says. "I'm still having it. I'm not used to it."

Some winners: Barbara's Puffins Peanut Butter Cereal. Horizon organic American cheese. Honest Kids -- even Colin's drinking it, though it took Cooney telling the toddler it's the juice Batman drinks to get him onboard.

As for the new lime chips?

"The new ones are good with guacamole," James says. Kate agrees.

That's good enough for Mom, for now.

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