New for 2014, I am planning a series of six interviews over six months, with various people who have something to say about children's relationship with food. To kick us off for January, I am thrilled to be posting my interview with Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD. Kristen is known as
The Dietitian Who Transforms Picky Eaters into Food-Confident Kids.
She lives and works in British Columbia (Canada) and I love her evidence-based, practical approach to picky eating. Kristen has been a registered dietitian for ten years and for the last five has been working with families to support them in providing good food for their kids today...and, instilling a life-long LOVE of eating. With Kristen's help, parents take back control of mealtimes and get their kids to try new foods on their own (without negotiations, deception or being sneaky). I hope you enjoy reading Kristen's responses as much as I did.
1) I'm really interested in what made you decide to train as a dietitian. Can you tell me a bit about what led you down that career path?
I’m really lucky in that I knew what I wanted to do from a young age. I was interested in health and food. At 16 I found out that there was something called a ‘dietitian’ and I knew that this was the profession for me!
2) You are clearly really passionate about helping children who are picky eaters and their families. Why did you choose to focus on these families?
In addition to my love of both food and health, I also find child development fascinating. Working with kids brings together all my passions.
What brings me to working specifically with picky eaters is that I was a picky eater myself as a child. I remember wanting to be a ‘good girl’ and eat the food that my Mum wanted me to eat, but also being scared that I wouldn’t like the taste or feeling of the food in my mouth. At the same time, some of my favourite childhood memories involve food, for example sitting in my Grannie’s kitchen while she made me applesauce – warm and pink.
When I learned about the work of Ellyn Satter (the Division of Responsibility) I was hooked. I knew that my life’s work would be to end the bad feelings about mealtimes and share how parents can make kids feel confident with food.
When my marriage unraveled one year into the adoption process, I decided to change my parenting contribution from being the adoptive mom to two kids to helping parents around the world enjoy their families, and good food!
3) If you had to sum up your philosophy in relation to working with picky eaters in one sentence, what would it be?
You can take back control of mealtimes to have good nutrition and enjoyable family time!
4) In your experience, what is the most common trap parents struggling with a child who only eats a limited range of foods can fall into?
The trap that I see most often that parents feel that they only have two choices when dealing with a picky eater. Both choices are losers resulting in increased guilt, worry, and stress. And you catch yourself being the parent you promised you wouldn’t be.
Choice #1: Give in. Give your child only 5 foods because at least you know that they’ll eat. Maybe you sneak some pureed vegetables. You’re left worrying that your child isn’t getting good nutrition. And, you’re either making different meals for each person in your family. Or, you’re sick and tired of eating noodles every night.
Choice #2: Force. This can either play out as endless negotiations about how many bites must be eaten. Or, it’s repeating the awful memories from your own childhood – being left sitting at the table alone for hours on end staring at the plate of dreaded food that MUST be eaten.
5) What do you consider to be your proudest moment professionally?
I don’t know that “proud” is the right word. I feel a rush of gratitude every time I receive an email from a parent who is jumping for joy that their little one just chose to eat a new food on their own.
I’m grateful for every parent who decides that they aren’t willing to do things the same way as everyone else and look for a better solution to their child’s picky eating.
I’m grateful for each parent who finds time in their busy lives to attend a workshop, read my guide e-book, or hire me to work with their family.
I’m grateful for each parent who trusts my experience and makes changes (even though the changes can seem scary for worried parents to make).
And, I’m grateful for each family that is now seeing results.
I’m grateful because I know that now parents are supporting their kids to not only get good nutrition today. But, they’re also instilling in their kids the tools to have life-long healthy eating habits.
6) What advice would you give to parents who are concerned about a picky eater?
That you don’t have to choose between giving in or forcing! There is a better way to support your child through this phase so that they build their confidence around food and choose to try new foods on their own.
7) Here in the UK, restaurants usually have kids menus, almost always featuring bland food without much variety. I feel that this gives children the message that these foods are what they are 'supposed' to eat - I'd love to see restaurants offering the same food to children as adults, just in smaller portions. I'm curious about Canadian culture - is it like that in Canada too?
For the most part – yes.
However, we’re starting to see a fantastic movement here in Canada, where restaurants are beginning to add much more inspired (and usually much healthier) foods on the children’s menu. They’re essentially smaller portions of what’s on the adult menu. I’m hearing parents buzzing about these leaders. And, I’m hoping to see the trend continue!
8) What are your plans for the future? Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
I’m really excited about how technology can help me to reach parents beyond my local communities.
My Small Bite VIP service lets me reach parents around the world. It’s a free service where I share evidence-based advice on feeding little ones and recipe and snack ideas. Get my 101 Healthy Snack Ideas now and you’ll automatically become a Small Bite VIP.
Small Bite VIPs also get exclusive discounts on my guide e-book and online workshops.
You can also follow Kristen on Twitter - @VitKnutrition