Pre-kids I use to enjoy sitting down in front 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!