Pre-kids I use to enjoy sitting down infront of the boob tube for dinner occasionally and just watching a rerun of Cash Cab or something from the DVR. I would settle down into the couch, plate in my lap and eat away. I always ate faster and more when I was in front of the TV, but I gave it little thought because I liked having some time to just zone out! Have you ever noticed this phenomenon? If you haven’t, then pay attention next time. I bet you will eat more and barely remember actually eating your food. Personally, I have tried to expose my kids to as little TV as possible, so I never zone out while eating anymore, which is a good thing!
When we eat in front of the TV (or a lap top, tablet, and even book) our mind is giving more attention to whatever we are watching than the act of eating and we go into an auto pilot state to multitask eating. Hence, why we suddenly look down and realize that the fries are almost gone, and yet we barely remember eating them. Well, the same goes for our kiddos. In theory, if you have a kid that doesn’t eat enough, this may be the ticket to get them to eat, it might work. However, I am going to challenge you to take the higher road, and turn off the TV, so that ultimately your kid will eat more because they want to, not because they were distracted by Dora.
I will tell you up front that some therapists use the TV as part of therapeutic treatment. Typically, if TV is motivating for a child, than it is set up as an incentive for a child to eat, usually in more extreme situations. As progress is made it is usually phased out. If you are working with a therapist that is using this as a strategy, obviously defer to them.
Besides the whole eating-on-auto-pilot thing, our kids completely lose out on any benefit of interaction with other members of the family and the food they are eating. As, I have discussed in some of my other posts, kids will notice if mommy is eating some tuna salad. They will also notice that you like the tuna salad and take seconds. Then they may be receptive to having another bite of a food that is new or that they don’t care for. In the very least it is exposing them to it. If the TV is on, chances are they may not even notice what you are doing with your food. They will barely realize what they are doing with their own food as they mindlessly eat another cracker. This goes hand in hand with sitting at the table to eat (one of my basic strategies). I am addressing this in a separate post because I know A LOT of people can view the main TV from their usual dining table or have TV’s in their kitchen’s.
If you have a baby, this suggestion goes for you too! I know babies may hardly realize what is going on to give the TV enough attention, but you will be more distracted. Even if you are trying your best to focus on your child, you will only be giving them your shared attention at best. While your baby is learning to eat, they need as much positive interaction from you as possible. They need to make a positive association with mealtime and learn how to chew and manage their food appropriately. Also, it is a great way to start the routine and have your child always know that the TV is off for meals. This will be much harder if you wait for them to be 16 months old and expect them to just be ok with not watching it at meals anymore. It also sends the message that this (eating) is important, we give it our full attention, and enjoy each other’s company. Try to have your baby eat where you will expect them to when they are older. If they aren’t going to be eating in the living room at two, don’t get in the habit of having them eat there at 8 months old. This will help set the foundation for a good meal time routine. I know it can be a pain, but you’ve got to suck this one up for your kids betterment too! (Ugh, being a parent is so self-sacrificing!)
Think baby steps if you eat most of your meals with the TV on. It may be overwhelming to go cold turkey. Maybe you could still eat in the living room around the coffee table together? Maybe you could put the TV on mute? Maybe you could turn it off after 5 minutes or wait 10 minutes before putting it on, slowly increasing the length of the time as you and your kid get more comfortable with the TV off. If you have older children prepare them in advance for this big change, it probably won’t be received too well, but I think if you explain your motives and be firm they will ultimately come around. As with all of my suggestions, just keep trying and be as consistent as possible! Change is hard, it is in our DNA to resist it, but with a determined frame of mind you can do it. The reward of having more quality time as a family and improved eating will be worth it!
Help for Picky Eaters
Managing Family Meals with a Picky Eater
Easy Feeding Tips from My Table to Yours
My son is 26 months old (2 yrs and 2 months old. And he is mealtime tv addictive. I started doing this with the tv on when he was I guess quite small around 10 months old because he won’t eat whenever I gave him food. Now when I get food ready, he runs to the tv, gets the remote and says mummy cartoon mummy cartoon. When I turn it on, he sits on the sofa, I have the plate in front of him and he just doesn’t eat. (I am a Muslim and atm it’s Ramadan for us so I am fasting from sunrise to sunset. However even when I am not fasting, the tv being on, as you have said in of your articles he is too distraction and all his attention is on the tv, he is too distracted to notice the food in front of him then eventually the food goes cold and he hast eaten it. Hence, I feed him myself with the tv being on. ). So i try to feed him myself he takes a spoon or two then just doesn’t eat. So I am like are you going to eat or cartoon bye bye. Then he’s like noo and opens his mouth to eat. When I turn the tv off he doesn’t eat and starts getting tantrums or instead goes and plays with his cars and doesn’t eat. When it comes to his nap time, I try to again get food ready for
Him to have again he brings the remote and tells me cartoon mummy. And same thing happens he doesn’t eat his food and is too distracted. When again the food goes cold and when I turn the tv off and tell
Him nap time, he runs to the fridge and goes milk milk. So instead of eating his meals and breakfast he goes for the milk. I had soo stressed out I just don’t know what to do. Me and my partner had decided we weren’t going to bring the IPad/tablet thing into his life at a young age. He doesn’t know how to use or how iPhones/iPads all work. Hence the tv addiction.
As the other mother in the comments mentioned, I had tried to change his eating habits by coming upstairs and reading books to him and having him eat through us reading books. Again I had to feed him whilst reading to him. He would be fleshing through the pages and won’t eat his food. So I stopped coming upstairs and stopped with the books eating method. I also brought a small tablet for him with 2 chairs for us to both sit there and eat food. (My husband is self-employed and is working till quite late 1.30am and so doesn’t eat proper mealtimes with us. He does come home sometimes in the morning after he had his brother be there in the shop or sometimes when it is noontime (my sons nap time). )
When I tried with the table he would be tacking him Snd bringing the remote to me and leaving the table and telling me mummy cartoon mummy cartoon. So again I gave up with the table.(I got the table before the month of Ramadan fasting started for us).
I just don’t know what to do anymore.
I am myself getting anxiety/stress problems with him watching tv and eating. Please kindly advice me on what I should do. Like you mentioned to other mums, England weather isn’t always nice lol, I will try with the picnics and eating the garden maybe and see how that goes for me. Or maybe go to the park and eat there (but then again he will be distracted with playing/seeing other kids and himself playing around and won’t be thinking of eating).
I would also like to add that my child prefers outdoor meals than indoor meals I prepare at home. So sometimes when we go to outside to get something from a local shop, he will see the breakfast shop and goes in there and tells me to get him jacket potato, he loves having that but from outdoors not indoors from Home. When he is having jacket potato, the tv isn’t even on his mind, he will come home and sit down on the floor and get his fork and start eating HIMSELF. I don’t even need to be feeding him he eats by himself. Now I don’t even know what to do in this case. Please kindly advise.
I am Asian, so a lot of our food includes vegetables ie., spinach, cauliflower, okras, peas, mixed vegetables etc…usually people like steam them for children but we don’t do that, we usually cook them with onions and tomatoes which makes the meal being even healthier. I have tried with boiling/steaming the vegetables but my son doesn’t like eating it like to him the taste of it seems blend. So he goes errggjjj…. and takes it out his mouth and literally shakes/shudders lol.
We have takeaway shops that includes pizzas/dinners etc…and my son used to like having that as food usually nuggets but now he doesn’t even like having these. Pizza here and there he likes having it but generally he has come off our own shoo take away foods.
Thanks for reaching out! We know it can be tough to have a child who will only eat in front of the tv! You might want to try moving the location of where you both sit for mealtimes. It is preferable to not be able to see the tv from the spot you eat. You might also want to check out our free workshop about picky eating to give you some more ideas! You can save your seat HERE. I hope that helps get you started!
My 3.5 year old has been eating with the ipad/ phone ever since he was 1 year old. We tried many times to wean him off the screen time but he wouls refuse to eat even a single bite without distraction. Or he would eat junk/ biscuits and fill up his stomach. Now i have taken break from work so that i can spend time with him and improve his eating habits. Its been 6 days and i have removed screen time cold turkey. But i am feeding him by reading stories/ toys/ blocks. The first 2-3 days went fine. But now he is bored with books etc and is not eating at all or i would say eating 1/4th his regular meals. I am not giving him any junk/ snacks. I am concerned as to how much time it will take him when he will start eating properly. Also, even reading him during mealtimes is burdening as i need to be tied down. How much time should it take when he will eat without any distraction like books etc. And what else i can do to make this process faster.
Oh, I imagine it is! I love how you’re stepping away from the iPAD though. The first thing I want you to look at are these eating basics, make sure you’re following all of them on the list. This is really important. I’d also like you to take a look at why kids don’t eat. I think that may give you a lot of insight, and give you some more advanced strategies.
I’d also say to try and change up your routine a little here and there to start having meals that he doesn’t need distracted in. For instance, have a picnic or eat outside at a table. Make it a lot of fun, bring his stuffed animals and set them in the other chairs. Have him help you plan meal and carry the food out like its a restaurant. Obviously you can’t do this at every meal, but every one you have that is successful is progress.
Our son has eating challenges. He was tube fed from birth and only began eating just before turning eight. Eating in front of the tv was helpful for a while after he first began eating, but it soon became evident that it was more of a hindrance than a help. He was mindlessly eating. Eating greater quantities but by not thinking about what he was doing the quality of his swallow was being impacted. He also started developing some challenging behaviours by wanting to swap shows very frequently and refused to eat unless specific things were being shown. Meanwhile my youngest son was so distracted that he forgot to eat. We made the change to eat at the table away from the tv. It took about six weeks before he stopped asking for the tv.
Thank you so much for sharing that, it will be really helpful to other parents!
Good parenting takes some sacrifices! Good job mom!
I have a 7 yr old and the TV has the exact opposite effect on her, she focuses so much on the TV that she forgets to eat. I rarely let her eat in the living room in front of the TV because of this behavior. The times that she has begged me and promised she will eat and I have given her the opportunity, I observe her and will notice that she will zone out for 2-3 minutes at a time and then all of a sudden she catches herself, sometimes quite suddenly to the point, she will jump, like she just got scared, blink her eyes and shake her head like she is trying to shake it off. These times always end up with moving her to the table w/ the TV off.
Excellent reminders! We are far from perfect in our home, but always striving to improve. When our second son was born, my husband began to finish dinner with our 2 year old down in his ‘mancave’ while watching PBS Kids. This habit has been HARD to break. They often still go down after dinner to share pistacchios or string cheese. Challenging for sure. I appreciate this reminder to continue to aim for tv free feeding!
It can be really challenging to break habits! Sounds like you guys are on the right track though.
My son is 2 and eats every meal in front of the TV, as do my husband and myself. I started doing this when he was about a year old, thinking it wasn’t a big deal, and because he seemed more willing to eat. I feel very guilty for creating such a bad habit that will inevitably be difficult to break. My husband is not very supportive about us eating together at the table, as a family. Any advice? Thank you!
It will take some time, but start slow so that nobody is stressed out. First, try a snack or lunch during the day and maybe create something fun like a picnic. Tell him, “Let’s have a picnic today at the big table (or wherever you’d like to be eating).” Or, while the weather is nice, sit at a picnic table outside. Once, you get him in the habit of one meal then slowly add the others.
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We are completely stuck in a rutt of having TV on for my extremely sensory/picky allergy suffering 2 year old. I’m really trying to wean him off breast feeding by day. My 4 year old has transformed since we employed a 2.5-3hr rule between meals. He genuinely sits down for mealtimes feeling hungry and has tried loads of new things because of it. My 2 year old just demands “mummy milk” at every meal time unless the TV is on. He will refuse to eat otherwise, it’s an absolute nightmare and I’m at a loss of what to do as I am so anti television at mealtime. Any advice for a breastfeeding mother is much appreciated.
We understand how hard this can be! I’d try to just slowly start to decrease the time the tv is on, to make it a new routine. So when you go to start, “oh hold on a minute mommy will get the tv” to just get him used to sitting there prior to it being turned on. It will take time but making slowly adjustments over time will help!