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How to Enjoy Family Meals and Stop Being Held Hostage by Your Kids

Hands up who feels backed into a corner by your kids' likes and dislikes at the dinner table?

You want to teach your kids healthy eating habits and enjoy peaceful family meals.


Your kids don't like the food you present. And you end up presenting a narrower and narrower range of foods to keep your kids happy.

Overtime you can see you present less healthy foods and feel stressed about dinner times. But you don't know how to get out of the rut.

Today I'm talking to Mette Theilmann, parenting coach, about how we can reset family meals and reach our long term goal of teaching our kids healthy food habits. As well as enjoying family meals!


In this episode, you will learn:

  • How to talk to your kids about food and eating habits
  • How to help kids develop a healthy attitude toward food
  • How do you fix a child's unpleasant food attitude
  • How to deal with children's manipulative behaviour
  • How to control your emotions with your child

Transcript of How to Enjoy Family Meals and Stop Being Held Hostage by Your Kids with Mette

Dr Orlena: Mette, thank you so much for being here. It's an absolute pleasure to have you on the fit and fabulous podcast. 

Mette: Thank you for having me. It's quite exciting we can sit in two different countries and still have this fun conversation. 

Communication and Connection Are Keys To Creating Routines And Healthy Boundaries Within The Family 

Dr Orlena:  I know. The amazingness of technology. Now I'd like to start by just asking you to quickly introduce yourself so people understand what it is that you do

Mette: Yep. So my name is Mette.  I am a fully qualified parent and family impact coach and also an author of a few parenting books. I'm the founder of predictable parenting. What I do is I help parents to create better connection and communication with each of the family members including themselves. Also if with an ex, if they're in a separated relationship.

Once we have created this connection and communication with our family members, then everything afterwards becomes so much easier to create rules and routines and boundaries, which is what we will talk about is to create this connection. So we can also set boundaries in a way that we still respect the receiver. 

Dr Orlena: Fabulous. And yes, it is all about communication. I'm trying to teach communication to my children at the moment. I'm super excited to talk to you.

Typical Family Scenario That Makes Mealtime An Awful Battle Zone 

Dr Orlena: I just want to set the scene a little bit of what I see as a typical scene. If I go back several years was definitely something that was happening for me.

It goes like this, all are having mealtime. Mother has spent her entire day thinking about what to cook for dinner. And this has taken a large part of her energy and she has chosen something, which she hopes that everybody will like. But then she comes to the dinner table and children going "Yuck. It's disgusting. I don't like it."  This is before they've even seen it.

Then often what happens is mother is feeling already on the back foot by then, because she spent so much time and effort preparing this meal. But also in the back of her mind, she's thinking, "Goodness! You need to eat something because that's one of the fundamental jobs that I have." And children are making a big fuss about it.

So then the parents will start saying, "Well, okay, just eat a little bit of broccoli" or something like that, or "Can you just take one bite of broccoli?" And then the children start being more assertive about it and "no, and I'm not doing it." And this escalates up and up.

And often it might be, "You can't have dessert if you don't do this, or parents feel backed into a corner. This repeats day after day after day until mealtimes just become this awful battle zone. And parents know that this has happened, but they feel powerless to backtrack and to fix it. So that is the problem.

Mother and daughter enjoying a happy and stress-free mealtime #family #healthy #mealtime #happymealtime #healthfamily

Arguments Over Food Preference Harbour Feelings Of Guilt And Shame

Mette: You're absolutely right. That it's actually a few more I see parents as well. So funny, you mentioned that scene because that is the scene that I actually have set up in my own mind when I was coming to join you on this podcast. It's a few other things that happen in that is that the kids might get to get the mom to a point where she ends up giving in and say, don't worry about it.

"So what do you want? So you want toast instead? Okay. So I give you toast." Or maybe end up in shaming and blaming arguments like, "Why are you always like this? I can't believe that you're so unhealthy. That's why you put on weight."

It actually can go either way where we give in or give up, "I've had enough" or we start becoming aggressive. And actually start criticising a little bit. 

In both ways, we end up guilty. They end up guilty around food, which is a really unhealthy place to be in the here and now, but more for the future. So you're absolutely right that it's so important to get in there and resets family meals so they can become more pleasant and have some healthy eating habits around them.

Awareness Of Children's Natural Behaviour Is The First Step To Change Their Food Attitude 

Dr Orlena: So what is step one? How do parents who are feeding?  How do they change that

Mette: The first thing I just want to start with is awareness. I always say awareness is the first step to change.

If we just move into a little bit, why are they doing this? It's very interesting because you said, before they even set seen the food, they start negotiating, which I find is quite interesting because they haven't even seen the food and they start negotiating or they start battling back.

Kids Are Curious And Normally Strive For Independence And Control 

Mette: There's something there already before we presented the food that we need to be aware around. The thing is that our kids are like small, very clever scientist. 

They're very quick to learn and they are curious about everything that's going on around them. They're always looking for more opportunities and options and alternatives and looking for means to get their way. And that is exactly how it should be, but it's normal.  That is how nature makes them in order to survive in this world.

Kids Learn Manipulative Behaviours To Get Their Way.

Mette: That also means that they quickly learn certain behaviours such as negotiating or begging or emotional blackmailing, screaming, tantrums, begging will get them to where they want to be. That would get them what they want to get out of what they don't want. That also comes when it includes food.

Giving In To Your Child's Unreasonable Demand Only Reinforces Manipulative Behaviour.

Mette: Exactly I was going to now put a little scene in there where I was going to say, I'm sure we have been there where we have presented some nice food to our children and they straight away said, "No, I don't want that. I want chicken nuggets." Even though that you feel this is what they like,  we then have to say, "No, this is what we eat." 

Exactly as you said, the same scenario, then our kids come in very clever scientists or quick to learn. They come in there and they just start begging and screaming and negotiating.  Just like small Duracell batteries that just go on and on and on until we have run out of batteries and we have run out of patience.

And we might have this point exactly as you said, give in. We might try to convince or negotiate, or maybe we do this because we feel sorry for them. Maybe we feel they have enough going on in their lives. So we just want to make the life a little bit more sweet. And we don't want to force food into them, but either way, it is not a good place to be.

Mette: I want to just want to say at this point here, the awareness state is that because every time we do this, we actually develop and encourage manipulation behaviour in our child. We teach them this behaviour do work with lots of force and persistence and consistency from the child. It had become a learned behaviour that we have encouraged. We have encouraged this behaviour.

Kids' Manipulative Behaviour Can Be Unlearned.

Mette: I just want to say that the good news is it can be unlearned with a lot of focus, consistency and predictability from our side as well. So that's the good news is that we can actually unlearn these behaviours. 

Kids Are Just Doing Their Job. Parents Should Do Their Own Too.

Mette: It is natural that what our kids are actually doing. So I just want to keep in mind at this point that, that they just doing their job and we need to do ours.

So in a way, I would like us to move away from blaming the child for not eating the food or not wanting to try that food or trying to negotiate other kinds of food because they're really just doing the job. And we need to do our job which is to set agreements and rules and boundaries around food instead of manipulations and threats and shame and blame.

It's Our Job As Parents To Teach Our Kids And Not To Get Manipulated By Them.

Mette: We need to teach them to communicate. We need to teach them to behave and we need to teach them how to eat and what to eat properly.

We also need to not be wind up by their attempt to manipulate us or to negotiate with us.  And keep in mind that they are just doing what they need to do. I need to do what I need to do. So you both need to do your job if that makes sense. 

Dr Orlena: Absolutely. And I love that.

Focus On The Idea That We Eat Foods To Fuel Our Body Not Just to Enjoy.

Dr Orlena: And just to add in,  one of the big pieces that I see, and I think just echoing what you're saying is that when we look at food in society, we often forget that the purpose of eating is to fuel our bodies. And we mix this up and we want to enjoy eating, but we want to enjoy eating so much that we focus on all of that emotions like, "I love this kind of food.

If we were just talking about fueling our bodies, we could eat cardboard if it was nutritious, which it's not, but it wouldn't make any difference.

So often we confuse these two things. As parents and children, we focus on that.  It's the enjoyment of the food, rather than, "well, if you're hungry, here's some food to eat and that will fuel your body."

Help Kids Develop Healthy Food Attitude Instead Of Just Making Them Eat.

Mette: Yeah,  I think you're absolutely right. And when I work with parents this way, and obviously, I will then send them to you. They want to know what to eat because that's not what I am qualified to do.  For me, it's more about the whole concept about working together as a team and to develop a good food attitude.

In that process,  you're so right,  The aim should not to make them eat. That's not the aim because a lot of parents, they parent from the short-term goal, which is to put food in food inside of them.  Actually what we should be aiming for is for us to behave in a way that creates healthy food attitudes in the child so they will enjoy the food, which has to be the long-term goal so they can make their own choose food choices, so they know how to eat. And I think that is more important than trying to get food inside of them. So I totally agree with you. 

Parents Manipulate Their Kids Too By Using Bribery And Reward 

Dr Orlena:  I'd like to steer you back to manipulation because I think this is a really important topic and you were just about to talk about it.

I feel so much that people feel manipulated by their children and they can see this behaviour going on, but they just feel helpless to get out of it,  And it feels like it doesn't matter what you say or what you do somehow. You're just not going to win. So what's the secret. What do we parents do? 

Mette: I just want to say one more thing to just back up something you said. but I would say I didn't plan to say, but that's the great thing about this conversation.

Talking about we feel manipulated by our children, the funny thing is that often till will feel manipulated by us as well. Obviously,  if we were to bribe or reward or use bribery for food, or we might do threats or punishment until the child eats, you could actually argue that we are trying to manipulate the child to eat when we want them to eat and what we want them to eat. 

Be Your Kids Role Model By Showing And Teaching Them Healthy Eating Habits.

Mette:  If you think about it, we are the kids' biggest role model. And so if we are manipulating our child to eat and what to eat, why shouldn't they also give it a go? And that's why I think it's even more important to move away from that make them eat instead of teaching them how to eat and what to eat 

To Prevent Emotional Eating In Children, Don't Use Food To Modify Behaviour. 

Dr Orlena: I totally agree. And I think that similar vain of that is that emotional eating is such a big problem in our society now. That is the one thing that we want not to teach our children. 

The way we don't teach our children that is by not using food to modify behaviour in any way whatsoever. So either, if you're bad, you can't have dessert or if you're good, here's a reward. You can have some sweeties or an ice cream, but that link should just not be there at all.

Be Aware Of Your Actions That May Lead To Manipulative Behaviour. 

Mette:  We are actually using manipulation behaviours. We're teaching them how to do it really well.

How can we undo it? We actually already in that process because the first step is awareness.

What are we doing right now that might create some negativity around food? So are we trying to manipulate children? 

We actually need to move away from that. And if we are using food, as you said that if you're nice to your brother, while I'm on the phone, you can have a biscuit.

We need to take that as way as well. So that is already the first step.

At this point, I will say to parents is if you were to go away right now and just think about what's going on with me and my child in terms of food? What negativity is happening that I'm installing? A good place to start is really just to be aware and take those out.

So that's definitely the first step for them to just step back and think, "Well, I never thought about that when I say too much on, if you eat your broccoli right now, you can have late ice cream later on." That is manipulation in a way because we manipulate them with our words and with our behaviour. And it shouldn't really be there.

No Matter What Age Your Child Is, It's Not Too Late To Change Their Attitude Toward Food.

Mette:  The second thing I want to say is when I work with parents is it's never too late. Parents often come to me and say, "it's really too late." They're only working right now with a family and one of the boys only eats white stuff, white toast, white pasta. Everything is just white and nothing with colours at all. "I think it's too late now. We've kind of missed that boat."

My thing to them is it's never too late to pull back the rope. So don't give up. There is definitely hope, no matter what age your children are at.

Trust Your Kids That They Can Learn Healthy Food Attitude 

Mette:  The other thing is I want you really to trust that your child can eat and that they want to eat, and they're not doing this because they're bad or mean kids.

I want you to trust them to think that actually we can turn things around and install a healthy attitude.

Start This New, Positive Journey. Your Kids Can Do It

Mette: Start this new journey as a positive journey, not with that, “Oh, this is going to be hard. I'm not sure it's working. It's too late." It's not too late. You can do it. Your kids can do it. 

Being Surrounded With Treats Is Part Of Making The Kids Understand What Healthy Living Is All About

Dr Orlena: I love that message. I would say as well, like one thing that I hear a lot of people saying is, "Oh, it's so difficult when kids are exposed to so many other treats at school or parties."  I do understand that, but that as well, being exposed to those treats and sweets is part of understanding healthy living and healthy eating.

Understanding that we need to set internal limits and we need to teach our children how to do that.

I would echo your message that it is perfectly possible to teach children healthy eating. And for them to think that it's normal, they don't think, “oh my goodness” that obviously they see other children eating in a different way. But what we eat at home and what they are used to eating and reaching for is just healthy and that's normal for them.

Photo of a table with healthy meals #family #healthy #mealtime #happymealtime #healthfamily

Our Present Situation Is An Opportunity To Reset Routines And Eating Habits 

Mette: Yeah, absolutely. So trust yourself, trust your family that you can do this together and you can set out on a new journey.

That brings me nicely into the next bit where I would like for these parents who are listening right now to see this as a new start to something and a new journey.

We obviously just come on the other side of the lockdown. So we are in this beautiful opportunity where what was normal before doesn't have to be normal anymore.

We have seen ourselves change and adapt and have the power to fit in and actually get to the other side of a big challenge.

So it's a great time to actually sit with your family right now. Reset family habits and say, “listen, what was known before was just something during the lockdown we did. but now it's just trying to create some new habits, some new routines, some new rules.”

Making Healthy Changes Is A Job That A Family Should Do Together

Mette: And for that, I would like for families right now to think of it as something they do together. Because nobody likes to be told what to eat or what not to eat or what to do or what not to do or point a finger at.

Telling Kids What Should Or Should Not Eat Will Make Them Resist Even More.

Mette: We are actually more likely to move away from where we want to be. So if we keep telling our kids we can't have sweets. You can't have cake, you can't have chicken nuggets. We have just created this negativity around food.

Also if we tell them, you have to eat your broccoli, you have to eat this and you have to do it this way, we actually not working together as a team. They're more likely to want to break the rules because we are not easy to work with because we had just the big bus telling them what to do and what not to do.

Aim For A Can-Do Attitude Without Shaming And Blaming

Mette:  I would really like for you to aim for a successful can-do attitude without shame and blame and guilt from our side or from their side. This can be created by having regular family meetings or regular family chats or whatever you would like to call it.

Discuss Resetting Food Habits During Family Meeting 

Mette: Families that work will normally have this on a Sunday where they kind of get together as a whole family. And they talk about, values of family. How do we want to run this family? What's important to this family.  In that process can also be around food and food and food habits.

So normally when we talk about rules and we talk about routines, bedtime, screen time, all these things. You can even talk about pocket, money, holidays. And one meeting, we can talk about how to reset food habits. And start the process in a very nice way to say, “Listen, we would love to reset some food habits in this family because we are aware that sometimes we present some food that you don't want to eat. And we definitely don't want to force you to eat something that you're not happy with, or you feel uncomfortable with.”

Your Kids Will Be Motivated If You Do Things  Together As A Family.

Mette: We thought that together as a family, we can actually plan together. What are we going to eat? We can cook together. And we would love for you to have a say as well. I think it's really important here that children will eat when they know how to, and if they feel positively motivated.

Motivate Your Child In A Way That They Will Feel Involved In Making Decisions In Terms Of What To Eat. 

Mette: I just want to talk a little bit of that feel motivated to eat. And here, I'm not talking about motivated by money or by screen time about sweets, or even by threats or rewards of force. I'm talking about motivation in the sense of control, involvement and choice from the side of the child that they feel, “Oh, actually I do have a say here.”

It's not just their way or the highway because often to come back to the very beginning, because the child feels maybe that we've pushed too much food down on them.  And we have to decide what is good and what is bad for them. By nature, I don't even know what that pushing back on, because you said at the beginning, they haven't even seen the food and the pushing back.

So by sitting down, having these family meeting where you reset family habits, they're actually more inclined to want to follow through with them because they feel "well, actually, I do have a sense of control in what I put in my body." And what I eat is not just their way or the highway. I think that it's for them to have a say as what they would like to eat and which day will they like to eat. How would they like to eat it? How would they like to present it?

It's not just putting food in front of them and said, “eat.” And obviously what they're going to eat is they would have to go and speak to you, how are we going to present a nice meal?

Give The Kids Options And Make Compromises To Avoid Power Struggle 

Mette: If they say chicken nuggets and pizza, you would say, "we can make it together with lots of green. "It doesn't always have to be from a delivery man to get the pizza.

But also instead of just asking them, what would you like to eat, and then we might end up in another negative power struggle with "no, no, no. I want pizza" or "You can’t have that." "I want chicken nuggets."No, you can't have that, " try to create a successful conversation where we give them options, so we would really like for you to be part of it so you're happy with the food.

You can choose on a Monday would you like to eat this, this or that? So you present the options that are possible and they can say, "oh yeah, I would really like to eat lasagna" "Great! So on Mondays, we could eat together."

Create Healthy Family Attitude By Agreeing And Writing Down What You're Going To Eat

Mette: So every single day we write down together as a family what we are going to eat. And it's not just us forcing these thoughts down on them. And I'm sure you as a coach working and I'm also a doctor working with family, It's much better this way, but we create a family attitude instead of just expecting them to eat what we tell them to do.

The More Healthy Food Choices You Present, The Easier You Can Make Your Kids Eat

Dr Orlena: Absolutely. I think it's really good.  You can give them choices of vegetables and you know I'm all about vegetables. But it's a really good thing to be able to say, “Okay. So which vegetables would you like with that? You could choose between carrots and peas and broccoli.

I always say, the more you present, actually, the more your children will eat. I have four children so if I put out four things and they all like different things, then each one will eat one thing.

You don't have to put up heaps and heaps of each vegetable, but the more choice you give them in terms of it being on the table, the more of them they eat. Whereas if I put out, for example, just aubergine, none of my children like aubergine so that's automatic. They're not going to eat any.

Allowing Your Kids To Take Part In The Kitchen Will Make Them Feel More Involved

Dr Orlena: I think getting kids involved in the kitchen from either planning or just helping. They can do it from an early age.  There are things that they can do and it helps them feel involved even if they aren't going to eat that food later on. It still gets them involved in the kitchen and be part of that process. 

The Goal Is For The Kids To Learn From The Process Of Deciding On Healthy Foods.

Mette: You’re so right.  Back to that point of it's not about putting food inside of them because for those people who are listening to the podcast, your kids are not going to die from not having food for one night. So it's not about the short term goal of putting food inside of them. It's a long-term goal of making them feel that they have a choice. They are in control of what they eat and that they can eat healthy.

Mette: It's the before. It's the doing and it's the after-process. How are we going to plan it? How are we going to cook it? How are we going to set the table? So we all always make a big deal of setting the table of who's going to clean up afterwards.

Teach Kids To Respect And Accept Each Other's Food Preferences.

Mette: Sit down with a family and do this. And the more you have in the family, obviously the more difficult it becomes, but the more beautiful it also becomes.

I also try to teach families, big families to say, have an agreement where you try each other's food.

My daughter is a vegetarian and the days she’s cooking at home. So she has a cooking day. My two boys have a cooking day. My husband has a cooking day and I have a cooking day. And then we have a surprise stay where we're just going to go, whatever. And so what is Michelle is trying to cook? The deal is that the others have to give it a go, but that also have to be some level of understanding and accepting these likes and dislikes.

One of my sons definitely does not like mushrooms.  I think that's totally acceptable. So we also have to learn to listen even though we might not like or agree with what we hear.

Make Family Get-Together A Venue To Discuss Uniqueness In Terms Of Food Choices

Mette: This family get-together is also a place to talk about what do you really like and what do you not so fond of or how can we make a difference?

We tried to have something else. I really, really like aubergines and you definitely don't like aubergines. So maybe that they will have aubergines and a carrot salad. And over time they might get used to it in a positive way, instead of you have to eat it.

But this thing of trying other food I think is quite good. Obviously here I just want to say, because my daughter is a hardcore vegetarian, I would never say to my daughter, you have to eat meat because that's unfair. I did say to my boys, the day that you were doing a nice steak, would you mind just make sure there's a choice of salad and some vegetables and potatoes just to respect people. I think as parents, we also have to respect our children's likes and dislikes because we're less likely to later on force foods inside of us.

Set An Agreement Over Sweet Treats To Prevent Manipulative Behaviour

Mette: As you said, early on,  I think it's a good place to agree to try to have this food. But at these family meetings, you can also have agreements around sweets crisps and cakes. So there's not a constant battle of mommy, can I have cake? Can I have crisp? Can I have cookies?

Avoid Storing Sweet Treats But You Can Agree To Get Some And Enjoy Occasionally. 

Mette: You know what, in our house, we didn't have it in the house because I always said out of mind, out of sight.

So if the kids know that the biscuit up in that cabinet cupboard then you're just encouraging them to go on with manipulation behaviours until you give in.

So don't have it in the house, but you can say, "Listen, we totally get it, but it's nice to have sweets and you like crisp." Maybe we can say Friday after school is the day we go down to the corner shop and you can have a few sweets and we can go home and enjoy them. 

We don't want unhealthy food to be a negative thing either where we say, “do you really want sweets? It's bad for you, bad for your teeth.”

Limit it and have an agreement around when can they actually enjoy it. We don't have to make it a big thing.

Always Involve Kids In The Process And Meet Halfway To Change Manipulative Behaviour.

Mette: So that is definitely the main thing of how to turn these manipulation behaviours around food is to meet the child where they are in terms of what they like.

Also, involve them in the process. Give them some sense of control, involvement, and choice of what they actually put in the mouth because otherwise, they're more likely to just resist because they feel forced and manipulated from our side. 

Hand-Mouth Coordination Is One Of The First Skills A Baby Learns.

Dr Orlena: Absolutely.  As a pediatric doctor, it's really interesting because one of the first things that we ever get control of in our bodies when we're babies is our hands and you'll see a baby who sort of like flapping their arms around and they're like, "oh, what is this thing?" That's a hand. Oh, it's attached to me.

And the first thing they really learned to do is to take their hand and put it in into their mouth. And so it's the first control we have over our body. 

Allow The Kids To Gain A Sense Of Control Over Food By Presenting Healthy Food Options

Dr Orlena: We need to allow our children to carry on doing that but with this big caveat of we're not allowing them to eat cake the whole time. 

The idea isn't you get to choose cake the whole time. The idea is I'm presenting the healthy foods and you get to choose amongst all of those healthy foods, which ones you're going to eat.

Don't Deprive Them Of Sweets Treats But Make Them Understand What Moderation Is.

Dr Orlena:  Obviously on top of that, yes, we're going to have some treats. Nothing's forbidden but it's about those treat foods being in moderation and really understanding what moderation is, because I think that's another big key.

Be Prepared For The Transition Period As You Change Your Kid's Food Attitude 

Dr Orlena: So just quickly, one of the things that I wanted to talk about was that transition period. And I know that from experience, sometimes it can go really smoothly. So from a story from our family years ago, I decided that we were going to stop having dessert because I don't really know why we had dessert in the first place.

So I did just stop. And actually, surprisingly, my kids took to it. It was like I said, “no desserts.” And they went, "oh, okay, fine." And that was the end of it. But normally it isn't like that. Normally there's a transition period of like, “oh really? Are you sure about this?” So how do we manage that behaviour? 

Mette: I just to come back to your point.  It also depends on the family setting. I obviously don't know how you brought up your kids. But I just want to say if they used to getting the way, and if the manipulation behaviour has gone on for a long time, the transition period is going to be even more important to be aware of and it's going to be difficult.

In those situations, it might even get worse. Because again, if we come back to the point that our kids are small, scientists are always trying to get their way. And at this point, they are going to try really, really, really hard to get you back to where you were before when you give in and give up.

So it's definitely good to prepare yourself. This is really important for the long term goal because I want my child to feel they could control what they put in their body in a healthy way.

The Long Term Goal Is For Your Kids To Have A Healthy Food Attitude 

They have a healthy choice to have a healthy attitude. That's a long-term goal. Not the short term goal which is to give in and give up, or happy kids in the here and now.  So prepare yourself, it might actually be a bit of a  battle.

The Measure Of Successful Eating Habits Is Based On The Changed Behaviour Of Both The Kids And The Parents

Mette:  Also to keep in mind that the measurement of successful eating habits should not only be based on our child's behaviour in the here and now, but on ours and how we feel afterwards.

It's Normal For Kids To Resist At First While Changing Their Eating Habits.

Mette: Very important to think, when we implement these new habits,  first we agree on them together. We set them up, we write them down. Then they might come back with some resistance. Just remember that I need to do the right thing.

The measurement of success at this point is that I behave in the right way that I respond in the right way that doesn't create negative create negativity around food.  So at this point, we can only control ourselves. We can not control the child. 

That's the first thing is when our child is resisting and playing up, it's normal. It's how it should be, but we need to control ourselves. Then I would say, prepare yourself for what lies ahead and your child's reaction.

A woman making a healthy meal for her family #family #healthy #mealtime #happymealtime #healthfamily

If You're Having A Hard Time Helping Your Kids Change Their Eating Habit, Give Yourself A Break.

Mette: So if you know, and if you have experienced and found out that this is going to be quite a difficult time that you're trying to change and adjust this period with these eating habits, then before you enter it,  before you get into the situation, just take a little time out and prepare yourself for what lies ahead.

Take a deep breath.  Just a deep breath. Stop. What I'm about to say. Stop. What I'm about to do? And just check in with myself.

You Cannot Control Your Kids Emotions But You Can Control Yours

Mette: The kids might have a bit of reaction right now because they want it back to how it was before and that's normal. They can have a reaction. They can grieve what they cannot have and what they cannot do. That is normal.

They can have emotions but I need to stay in control of myself. It's not up to me to change those emotions. And once you have to calm yourself down and prepare yourself for what lies ahead, then you can enter the situation and you present the food and everything is happening until the moment they go, "oh, I don't want, this is disgusting."

How You Respond To Your Kid's Reaction Is Also A Measurement Of Success

Mette: Take a deep breath and go, “It's how I react. I want to be measured, assertive and firm, not reactive or impulsive or aggressive.”

Measurement of success is how I respond right now. Then I would say, come from a place of listening, understanding and accepting. We don't have to be aggressive to be heard or respected.

Stick With Your  Agreement, Negotiation Will Just Again Encourage Manipulative Behaviours

Mette: We can say, “You know what? I can hear that you're really disappointed right now because we're having lasagna. And I understand that you really want chicken nuggets and that's okay because we will make them on Friday as agreed. "Yeah. But this is not fair. And everybody else can..." "I can hear what you're saying and I understand what you're saying and it's okay to feel a little bit disappointed right now, but we are having chicken nuggets on Friday.

So let's just get back to what we have agreed with. Try not to get into the negotiation level because at this point is where they're trying to get back to how we were before where we allowed the manipulation behaviour to really manifest itself. We went heart against heart. word against words. 

Allow Their Emotions But Be Firm About What You Have Agreed On.

Mette: At this point, we just very cool. Very calming, say, “yeah, you know what? You can have these emotions.” They can be upset. They can grieve. It's their emotions, but it doesn't change the fact that today we've agreed to have lasagna because we know that they like it.

Stay Calm And Limit Your Words 

Mette: I will say less is more. So try to just say what you have to say in a calm way without being tempted to be winded up with lots of words where we ended up shaming and blaming and criticizing, because we know this thing about going to word overflow with one word, just take the other. And before we know it, we are up and we have joined the negotiation battle.

Keep It Short. Saying More Will Only Steer Negotiations.

Mette: But also what's happening here is that we just sound less convincing. It sounds like we are trying to convince them about our decision and we would just open up the negotiation. It's a keep the words at a very short, “you know what son, I can hear you, but disappointed.”

Validate Your Kid's Feelings Instead Of Taking Them Personally

Mette: And here, we also translate the words and language because they might not have the maturity to really say what they want to say. “Mommy, I hate you. And this is disgusting and you don't know how to cook.”

We don't have to say  “that's not very nice.” Rise to them, we can say, “You know what Son, I can hear what you're saying, that you don't fancy lasagna right now and that you are disappointed."

You are translating those big words.

Wait For The Kids To Calm Down And Gently Re-Engage Again

Mette: I would say this point, stop and ignore the behaviour. Just keep going with a bit of music. You can do a bit of humming and as soon as they've calmed down, then you re-engage with them and say, “We should be enjoying the lasagna." We don't have to say, "Why are you doing this?  You're always negative."And here I am, we've become a nagging doormat and a living March.  Don' get there. Stay calm.

Being Aware Of Your Emotional Triggers Will Also Stop You From Incessant Talking 

Dr Orlena: I think one of the things is that you're talking about is that essentially you're talking about us taking on their emotions and getting triggered by them. And I find that when I'm cross with my children, I just want to talk and talk and talk.

And that's how I'm expressing that.  And once I'm aware that what I'm saying and talking, it's just me, it's my way of expressing my frustration, my anger, then that allows me to stop and deal with it and remind myself that I'm just doing what they're doing now. And that actually, I just need to be quiet and literally bite my tongue.

Mette: Yeah. And you encourage negotiation by keeping it going. And remember, we can't negotiate with somebody who's not talking or listening.  And that's why I say, you know, we can still listen to say, listen, I can hear that really upset right now we can acknowledge that they have emotions, but we can also let them have the emotion without taking it on us.

Your  Job As a Parent Is To Control Yourself and To Be Positively In-charge

Mette: So I think the biggest things at this point, just focus on your own behaviour, your own emotions. We cannot control anybody but ourselves. We can stay in charge of the situation as we should be doing as a job.

That's our job as a parent to control ourselves and be positively in charge of the situation where we encourage teamwork and cooperation.

And that is really where we meet our long term goal of having kids who are independent, who are confident, who can make healthy food choices.

Where To Find More About Mette

Dr Orlena: Fabulous, Mette. Thank you so much for chatting to us now, before I tell everyone about our amazing workshop, would you like to just tell people where they can find a little bit more about you? 

Mette: Yes. Obviously, I have a Facebook page. This is called predictable parenting. So you can find me there. I also have a website with all my webinars and blogs, Obviously, you can see it, but I'm still showing you, my new books are coming out, which is called Parenting By The Day With 23 tools.

Dr Orlena: Fabulous. Congratulations. So can they be found on Amazon, UK and

Mette: Yes, they're still not up there because literally, that's why I'm so excited. I literally just got a half an hour ago in my hand and I don't want to put it up there until I've seen through it, but eventually, that's where there'll be found and on my website. And also they can be bought on Facebook in the shop.

Dr Orlena: If you're listening to this week, as it goes live on may the 26th, we are doing a course, workshop together where we're going to be going more into this wow do we teach our kids healthy habits. The two of us together. And you will have a chance to actually ask questions because I know lots of people have lots of questions and go, "but what about this? And what about that?"

Obviously, we can't address that right now on this recording, but you will be able to be there. So you're invited and that is at 8:00 PM Central European Time. So it's 7:00 PM. If you're in the UK and if you're in the Eastern United States, that's 2:00 PM in the afternoon. I will put a link in the show notes so people can sign up for that.

Mette: So I just think that the compliment, when I was preparing for this podcast, I was really missing you a bit to go in March. So this webinar is going to be amazing because your wisdom will be in that as well. So it's like a double yammer.

Dr Orlena: That's fabulous. And I'm super excited. I hope it's the first of many collaborations that we do together because I think the two pieces, the healthy eating and the behaviour of really like once you've sorted that out, it's just so easy and I'm all for easy and fun.

It's about mealtimes should be about enjoyment and fun. And we should get to this place where we just know that we're having fun yet.

We're teaching our children healthy habits that they're just going to have going into adulthood. So thank you so much. 

Mette: Thank you so much for being here, Metta for inviting me.

Related Podcast

Dr Orlena's Magic Likes and Dislikes Exercise

Wouldn't it be amazing if you could dial down your cravings for certain foods?

Or increase your like for healthy foods? Wouldn't that make healthy eating so much easier?

Well, you can! In just 30 minutes.

Alea didn't like blueberries until she did the Magic Likes exercise. She was eating them and enjoying them by the end of the call!

Tory stopped eating pretzels after she did the exercise.

Find out more about Dr Orlena's Magic Likes and Dislikes Exercise.

(Psst... if you sign up for the "Overeating quiz" you can get a huge discount!)

Written By Dr Orlena 

Dr Orlena Kerek (MBChB from the University of Bristol, UK) trained as a pediatric doctor. She is now a family health coach. She helps busy mums who want to feel amazing by eating healthy food. So they can enjoy a healthy life, get back into their honeymoon shorts and teach their kids healthy habits.  All without thinking about it.

If you want a healthy family and healthy lifestyle without having to think about it. And you'd like help, book a 30 minute "Healthy Life Roadmap" call here.


Connect with Mette Theilmann

You can connect with Mette on her website Mette Theilmann Predictable Parenting.

Join the Setting Boundaries Around Food Workshop with Mette and Dr Orlena 

May 26th. Sign up here:


Take Dr Orlena's "Why Do I Overeat Quiz?"

 Take the fun quiz to get clarity on why you overeat.

What's really going on for you?