Is meal time in your house like a war zone? "Eat this." "No!" "Try that." "I don't want to!" Little arms folded tensely across heaving chests and eyebrows etched stubbornly in forward slants: "You can't make me."

"Whatever happened to my sweet little baby?" You wonder. "What is it about broccoli that makes it that repulsive?"

If this sounds all too familiar, don't fret - many children have a healthy and normal dose of choosy eating and food neophobia (the fear of trying new foods). Here are some common missteps that parents should know and avoid, and tips on getting your child to be more open to try new foods.

Keep your cool. It's hard to not feel slighted by your child, especially if you've slaved over a hot stove to make a wonderful meal only to be met with uncooperative eaters who have yet to understand how to appreciate your efforts. In such situations, try to avoid ultimatums or bribery to get them to finish their plate. Keeping a rein on your emotions and reacting neutrally to a child's refusal will keep a small situation from escalating to a power struggle or becoming a recurring ordeal at the dinner table. It is also important to realize that being choosy with their foods is a sign that your child is taking their first attempts at making their own decisions.

Nutritionists also caution about introducing too many foods at once. Instead, try to get your child to try one new food item at a time, and respect their decision not to eat it by not making a big deal out of their refusal and offering the food at another meal. Keep in mind it may take multiple sightings of the new food before your child warms up to it. To make sure that there is something for your child, try to always have at least one staple item on the table that you know your child will eat (e.g., bread with butter).

Be one step ahead of them. Part of learning how to keep cool is to learn about your child's stages of growth and their food behaviours at different ages. Generally, picky eating tends to be most common when your child is a toddler or preschooler.

For example, toddlers are more likely to get tired or fussy by the end of the day, especially when they are now a little older and less cooperative about their nap times, which could make dinner time harder than other meals. They are also more erratic with their behaviours, refusing a food one day and wanting more of it the next. Understanding their behaviours will help you keep cool and roll with the punches.

By preschool age, on the other hand, the child will likely have a more defined eating pattern, prefer sweet foods, and want to be involved in deciding what they eat. There is also a slowdown in growth for preschool children, leading to smaller appetites, which will return when they are on another growth spurt.

Realizing that your child's food behaviours are normal and reflect their growth patterns will help you feel less "rejected" and be more patient about how to respond to your child and keep one step ahead of them.

Don't be a kitchen despot. When you're the cook, you may very well not want little interlopers in your way. Some children grow up knowing that the kitchen is off limits, and understandably so, as the kitchen is the place where dangerous utensils and boiling pots make it an all-too-easy area for hazards waiting to happen. But studies show that allowing children to be part of the meal preparation process helps them to get comfortable with new food textures and colours, and therefore to be more accepting of trying different foods. Wouldn't you be more interested in eating something if you had a hand in making it?

Keep healthy snacks on hand. Some parents also worry that their children will eat too many cookies and chocolate bars if they don't put a limit to these treats. Parents become strict about unhealthy snacks. But studies show that children who are given restrictions on foods are much more likely to binge when they get access to those foods. Rather than restricting unhealthy foods, it is best not to bring them into the house on a regular basis. Instead, fill your kitchen pantry with healthy snacks that you are able to give your children free access to.

Set a good example. Children are the best imitators and they absorb everything - your gentle touch, your funny jokes, your encouragements and disapprovals, down to your eating behaviours. If your child sees that you are a fussy eater or are dieting, studies suggest that your child may pick up those habits, too.

Try to make meal time a family experience. Focus on how foods taste and on trying new foods in front of your kids, rather than on how their choosy behaviour is affecting everyone at the table. And if possible, take your child grocery shopping and have them help you plan meals for the week. Planning your meals before hitting the store will help you balance what your family eats and avoid any nutritional deficiencies from eating the same thing all week.

Joanne Lee