I get so many requests for suggestions for hassles around food, at the family table and in the lunch box. Anything that goes into or comes out of your kid’s body is a prime target for a power struggle. And what with all you super parents wanting to make sure your kids are healthy YOU are prime targets for some excellent hoop jumping training by your children. This training ends up taking the form of you becoming a short order cook, waitress, eating nag and toilet monitor. Here’s how to let go of your end of the power struggle rope. And just in case you’d like to think that this has nothing to do with you and everything to do with your child: We never have to look far to find the person who trained your child how to engage in power struggles, AND any time you find yourself wanting to “make them” do anything you are hooked AND it fall to us adults to take the high road and set the good example of stopping the vicious power struggle cycle. Sounds great doesn’t it? Now for how to do it:

Decide what YOU will do, not what you will try to make them do.

Tell your entire family your new plan.

Take time for training at neutral times. Make training fun and short, end on a high note with them wanting more.

Make lunch the night before TOGETHER from toddlers on. For the little ones offer the choice between two options for each food group. Have your child pack the lunch box. From 4-5 years on teach your child to make sandwiches and start turning over more and more responsibilities. If you start by 4 - 5 years your child should be self sufficient by 6 or first grade, meaning they make their own lunch ALONE!

Set up an area of the fridge and pantry so that your child can find accepted foods for breakfast, snacks and lunches. For the little ones set out one serving containers until they can manage larger sized containers.

Train your children how to prepare simple breakfasts and snacks from 2 1/2 years on. A 3 year old, with training, can make their own breakfasts and snacks. Once they can, make school morning breakfasts self serve. Save those fancy family breakfasts for the weekends and holidays.

Put labeled water bottles for every family member in the fridge so they can get their own water. Train 4 year olds how to fill their own bottles the night before. Take turns filling younger kids with them.

Make dinners together from 3 years on, the little ones can scrub veggies and make salads (with training) and set the table. Set up weekly menus together, let everyone have a night to choose the entree. Take turns choosing side dishes. Plan several healthy choices.

Put the food on the table in bowls. Let everyone serve themselves. Teach toddlers how to serve themselves using child friendly tongs and spoons. Make NO comment about anyone’s choices. Keep your conversations non food related, pleasant and chit chatty. Share news, avoid problem solving and issues. Offer the option of a self serve snack from the acceptable snacks in the fridge or pantry. Make NO COMMENT, DO NOT OFFER TO MAKE A SUBSTITUTION!

Enjoy your food and the company of your family. If someone is to hook you into your old response, try to find the wherewithal to laugh and say “Good Try! That doesn’t work on me any more!” Wear ear plugs during the training period if your family is really good at getting you involved in their efforts to get you to go back to your old ways of being a short order cook or jump through their hoops to serve up other options or buy into their starvation dramas. Let them be in charge of their own meal since you clearly can’t be trusted to meet their every demand. Simply put, redefine your role, cook at least one thing you enjoy and reclaim your freedom from the tyranny of the kitchen or your family.

Ask yourself, Is your family’s diet balanced over a month?, if so GREAT! Then have some fun meals like pop corn and fruit for dinner. If not then take the next month to introduce some new foods, SLOWLY.

Remind yourself that even if your child only eats fruit and yogurt and crackers, it won’t last forever. Relax, sneak some protein powder into a fruit smoothie once a day and refuse to coax, or nag.

Set up a trying food policy and initiate it as a given for every member of the family, so that parents too take trial bites at the same time as the kids.

This too will pass! Try to see the humor and enjoy the phases, they will all too soon pass. Plus they’ll make great stories when your kids are grown.