It's the mealtime showdown. My toddler, poised at one end of the table, myself at the other, staring each other down over a plate of peas.
"Peas are like nature's candy," I tell her.
My daughter is no fool. She looks at the peas, sees no sign of sugar and tightens up her lips. The peas are getting cold and my patience is thin.
Iíll be honest. The food thing is a daily struggle for me. Daily. I go back and forth between wanting to somehow force my daughter to try everything to throwing my hands up and serving nothing but PBJs until she leaves for college. I hope that with time we will find some kind of middle ground. But itís probably going to have to start with me.
Kristen Yarker, a Victoria-based dietician, who specializes in helping with picky eaters, says it's possible to transform your toddler into a confident food-lover. She said there are developmental reasons why some kids turn into picky eaters, but there are also fussy feeding strategies that parents can use.
"At two years old, everything toddlers do is about pushing boundaries and becoming an individual, which includes the food they eat," Yarker said.
My first instinct is to bribe my daughter with a yummy dessert but Yarker warns against using this tactic. Bribes teach that healthy food is something to be overcome rather than enjoyed.
As outlined in her e-book, Provide, Trust, Love (then introduce new foods), parents are encouraged to create a four-step foundation to help toddlers build confidence and the ability to choose well.
The first step is having meal and snacks about the same time everyday. Yarker says kids thrive on routines. Structure helps little ones develop the confidence to try new things.
The second step is role modeling. It is important to have a trusted adult join the little one at snack time. The third step is to make meal times pleasant and take the pressure off.
"Don't put your toddler under the microscope because nobody thrives when dinner turns into an interrogation," Yarker said. Have a good time together and enjoy each other's company."
The fourth and final step is to include a few favourites in every meal or snack and then slowly introduce new foods through repeated exposure. The goal is for toddlers to understand that this is what is being served and there isn't something else coming.
"Setting some boundaries gives kids the ability to make choices Ö (It) may mean experiencing some negative consequences after not eating what is served, but next time they will make a different choice. Kids learn really quickly.Ē
Creating the foundation for healthy eating can start as early as six months old. It's also never too late to make changes in your child's mealtime behaviours.
In an effort to avoid a lifetime of mealtime showdowns, I've started to put Yarker's principles into practice in our house with some success. Now to tackle the peas.
For readers of The Question, Yarker is offering a free limited-time coupon for $10 off her popular e-book Provide, Trust, Love (then introduce new foods), available at www.vitaminkconsulting.com. From Thursday (Sept. 5) to midnight on Sunday (Sept. 8), readers can use the coupon code QUESTION to receive a discount on the book.
Yarker is also offering her Toddler at the Table workshop in North Vancouver on Monday, Sept. 9. Registration is also online at vitaminkconsulting.com.