Victoria, British Columbia-based Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD brings the JOY of healthy eating to women and picky kids. We asked Kristen to share some of her thoughts on helping picky-eating children and developing healthful, positive relationships with food.
Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to use your nutrition and dietary expertise to focus directly on families?
I’ve always loved food and kids, so it’s natural that I work with these two passions. I also focus my attention on families because it’s so easy for kids and adults to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. I like to work with families so that they can get things right from the start. It’s like inoculating kids to protect them as they head out into this unhealthy environment.
Why do you think people develop such unhealthy relationships with food?
Because we’re constantly surrounded by negative messages about food and unrealistic messages about how our bodies should look. Having a healthy relationship with food is really a rebellious act.
If someone were to say to you, “I try to view food as fuel for my body and nothing more,” how might you respond?
Then you’re going to need to work to achieve that. We’re more than just our bodies; we’re our minds and spirits, too. In addition to being fuel for our bodies, food is a source of pleasure, and it’s a connection to our families and culture. To deny that is denying who we are as human beings.
Since you mentioned that several years ago you were eating healthy but not feeling good, could you tell us what changes you made to address that concern?
I was doing a lot of emotional eating back then. What I changed was learning other ways to care for myself – what I call adding tools to my self-care toolkit, like having a daily gratitude practice and meditating. I also changed what I ate for breakfast. I included more protein-rich foods, healthy fats, and slower-to-digest whole grains. The result is that I now don’t crave sugar all day.
My most common breakfast now is overnight oats. Here’s the recipe:
• Combine equal parts rolled or steel cut oats with yogurt and milk in a bowl or the container that you’ll take this in to go. Choose 1/4 cup – 1/3 cup oats, 1/4 cup – 1/3 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup – 1/3 cup milk. If you don’t consume dairy, use a double portion of plant-based milk alternative (e.g. ½ – 2/3 cup soy milk, almond milk, etc.) and leave out the yogurt.
• Choose a nut or seed that you like. Examples include hemp hearts (my personal favorite), chia seeds, chopped or sliced nuts, nut butter, or pumpkin seeds. Add it to the oat mixture.
• Choose a fruit that you like. Examples include applesauce, berries, pomegranate, or pumpkin puree. Add it to the oat mixture.
As the name of this dish suggests, prepare everything the night before. Place it in the fridge; and the next morning, give it a stir and enjoy!
Since you work a lot with kids who are picky eaters, could you give parents one piece of advice that they can act on today to help them with their picky-eating children?
Sit and eat with your kids at as many meals as possible. Use this time to have pleasant conversations. Don’t talk about what food is or isn’t being eaten (e.g. don’t negotiate over how many more bites of peas). Instead, talk about topics such as how your days went, upcoming family events, etc. Also, choose a different time to scold kids; don’t do it at the table. As the saying goes, what kids really want for dinner… is you. Kids really do eat better when a trusted adult joins them.
When you’re preparing meals and foods in your kitchen, what are the utensils, tools, gadgets, appliances, or other items that you simply cannot live without?
People are often surprised that I don’t have a lot of fancy gadgets. But I do have excellent-quality equipment. Good quality kitchen basics really do make cooking more enjoyable, so buy as high a level of quality as you can afford.
I couldn’t live without sharp knives (several sizes) and heavy-bottomed pots and pans. During winter, I do a lot of roasting, so I’d be lost without my roasting pans. And, of course, my coffee grinder and French press coffee maker.
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