Food, friends and family. Putting them all together during the holidays can be a recipe for conflict.

Some people just can't resist voicing unwanted opinions and advice on loved ones' weight and eating habits. Others are subtle saboteurs who wave too many temptations under the noses of people who are trying not to gain extra pounds during this season.

It's a sticky situation for many who find themselves on the defensive about what is – or isn't – on their plates. And food fights can spoil what should be a happy occasion.

We gave family and nutrition specialists some scenarios that many people face this time of year and asked them to share some tips.

Your host makes a signature dish that she's really proud of, and she expects everybody to eat it. You're not on a diet or you just hate that particular food. What should you do?

“Take a bite-size helping and pass it on,” says Charlotte Shoup Olsen, an associate professor of family studies at Kansas State University. “Whether you consume that bite is up to you.”

You've lost some weight this year and now family members say they're worried you're getting too thin. “Here, have some more food,” they insist. How should you handle a situation like this?

Sandy Procter, a registered dietitian with K-State Research and Extension, suggests just changing the subject by saying, “Thanks. I appreciate your interest in my health. And how about you? How have you been?”

While some people may have ulterior motives to shove food at you like that, there's often an innocent explanation, Wells says.

“It's just that shock factor,” she says. “Somebody hasn't seen you for a year and you've lost 30 pounds and they can think, ‘Oh my gosh, she's withering away.'”

In that case, consider reassuring your relatives that you're at a healthy weight.

A family member keeps giving you unsolicited advice that you need to lose weight. At a holiday meal, he looks at your plate and says, “Are you sure you should be eating that? Do you really need that piece of pie?” How should you handle this situation?

You could calmly say, “Hey, can we not talk about this right now?” and later pull the person aside discreetly and express how you feel about him talking about your eating, Wells says.

If he won't drop the subject when you ask, “get yourself out of the situation,” Wells says. Go sit at another table if possible.

If you know you'll be at a holiday meal where the menu won't have foods you can eat, how should you handle that? Should you bring a dish of your own that you can share with everyone? Is it OK to bring food just for yourself?

Whatever you do, leave the single-serving Tupperware at home, our experts say.

“It really sends a message like, ‘Oh, there's no way you could possibly serve something that would work for me,'” Procter says.

Bringing a dish to share with everyone is fine as long as the hostess is OK with it. But if you don't have an issue like food allergies, it might be best to just try a little harder to fit in with the group, Procter says.

Shared meals can help build and strengthen relationships. “You don't want to do something to undo all that good and goodwill,” she says.

“... Some of these family meals can really stretch the dynamics of a relationship. A lot of times something has to give.”

So maybe for one day, be more flexible about your food.

© 2006, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.