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  Registered Dietitian, Melinda Hemmelgarn*, answers parents' most common food and nutrition questions.

Q. My father made me clean my plate as I was growing up. Should I insist that my children do the same? 
 
A. Never force a child to eat, nor withhold food as punishment. Serve children small portions (~1 tablespoon per year of age) of nourishing food, then trust them to decide when they have had enough to eat. Forcing children to eat, or encouraging them to eat “just one more bite” interferes with their ability to self-regulate based on their internal cues of hunger and satiety.
 
Remember: it's the parent's job to provide healthful foods for regular meals and snacks; but it's the child's job to determine how much they eat. Insisting that children clean their plates is sure to backfire: it can lead to obesity and will set up a power struggle or fights at the table where no one wins.
 

 
Q. The only way I can get my daughter to eat vegetables is to bribe her with dessert. Is this okay?
 
A. Dietitians advise against using dessert as a reward. For one, it places the dessert on a pedestal, making it seem even more desirable. Second, your child will end up overeating twice: once to finish her food, in this case vegetables, and again when she eats the dessert she feels she's rightfully earned. Using desserts as punishments or rewards can also set up an unhealthy emotional relationship that may lead to development of eating problems later on. Better to offer a variety of vegetables to give your child some choice, ask her to help prepare, and serve them. Also, serving vegetables when your child is hungry -- after school; or with a "dip" -- yogurt, salad dressing, or melted cheese improves acceptance.
 
This might sound odd, but another option is to serve desert along with your child’s meal. You may be surprised: your child will eat some of each. Making nutritious desserts for the family is also key. Bread or rice pudding, made with low fat milk, whole grain bread or rice, and raisins; banana splits -- heavy on the banana and lighter on the ice cream; and fresh or canned fruits with yogurt or a small amount of ice cream are nutritious and delicious!
 
I always use whole wheat pastry flour when making cookies and cake so that my desserts will have the added goodness of whole grain. I also cut fat and sugar by at least one-fourth.

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* Melinda Hemmelgarn is a registered dietitian, "Food Sleuth®" newspaper columnist, and nutrition consultant. She conducts workshops nationwide blending media literacy with nutrition education. She's also the proud mother of two grown children, Robert and Hannah, who love fresh vegetables. Melinda lives in Columbia, MO with her husband. When she's not writing or speaking you'll find her absorbed in the wonder of her vegetable, herb and flower gardens, which she enthusiastically shares with inquisitive children.

Always check with your pediatrician if you have concerns about the growth, eating habits, and health of your child.