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There are key times and certain situations that lead to dreaded and counterproductive FOOD FIGHTS.

Food is several things: nutrition for our body, pleasure for our senses, a way of saying I love you. Eating together in peace and harmony is guaranteed to keep a family close.

Food is never something to fight over. Food should never be a point of contention between parent and child.

Remember the parenting mantra: There are five things no parent can make a child do: eat, poop, fall asleep, be happy, or grow up the way you dream they will. Why? Because your child is another person, not you. Your child has his or her own appetite and food likes and dislikes. Same with body rhythms that let the child know when to poop and fall asleep.

What starts a food fight? A parent telling the child what or what amount to eat. A parent nagging the kid about eating habits. Cajoling: One more bite. Threatening: If you don’t eat your vegetables you’ll get sick. Begging: Please eat one more bite for Mommy.

When are food fights likely to occur? When the toddler won’t eat (click on–). When a child is so skinny so you worry about anorexia or so fat so you worry about diabetes. When the child prefers junk food to roasted vegetables. When you go ballistic because you have to throw out uneaten food.

Food fights always start the same way. The parent worries about what and how much the kid is eating forgetting about parental impotence when it comes to making a child eat. The parent tries to make or coax the child to eat. The child reacts, negatively of course. What fun to make Mommy upset by clamping your mouth shut! The food fight is on.

But wait, you might ask, isn’t it my responsibility to provide my child with healthy food? Yes, it is. But fighting with your child about what he or she eats doesn’t work.

What does work is to let the child tell you about amounts and favorite foods. A baby who is full stops nursing or turns away from the bottle. Respect that cue.

When the child is ready for solid foods again let the appetite of the little person determine the amount. The “One more spoon for Mommy” routine could be teaching your child how to overeat. Or it may actually set you up for a “My toddler won’t eat!” household. Recent evidence shows that when one-year-old babies were pressured to eat they weighed less at age two than those whose mothers were more casual about food. Again respect your child’s appetites.

Also respect the child’s likes and dislikes. These usually become apparent in toddlerhood although they are not fixed. The kid who spits out pureed carrots now may become a devotee later. Some children are more eager to try new foods than others. And being a finicky eater is a trait that may persist. But the wise parent does three things in toddlerhood to prevent food fights. Get the child on finger food as soon as possible as this gives the child more control, offer small amounts and let the child ask for more, and respect what the child dislikes.

As for worries about junk food and obesity use the control you do have. Fill your cupboards with healthy food and model good eating habits. This helps, nagging doesn’t.

The wasted food and the anger about preparing an uneaten meal can best be handled by serving small amounts (You don’t have to say, “Try just one bite.” instead put just one bite of a new food on the child’s plate.). In my house if a child did not want what I had cooked I never went back to the kitchen to cook up something else. I sent the child to go to the kitchen and to get some cereal and milk. My kids survived.

In summary. Parents always start food fights. Parents never win food fights. There is a message here.