How To Feed Your Child Without Screens

Many parents struggle with a fussy toddler at meal times. Without consideration of long-term effects, they start distraction feeding using screens at mealtimes. They think they can wean the child off screens eventually, but that doesn’t happen. Now their toddler only eats when distracted and the parent is left feeling defeated. If this is you, do not worry. This post will look at effective ways to transition off screens at mealtime and learn how to stop screen time at meals.

But first,

What are the disadvantages of screen time at meals? 

Distraction feeding has many disadvantages in the long term because meal times are important to

  1. Create exposure to new tastes and textures.
  2. Engage with food to get appropriate satiety cues.
  3. Develop feeding skills and a positive association with food.
  4. Learn through observing adults.
  5. Learn about the cultural importance of certain foods and family rituals. These social signals are lost when the child is distracted by screens at meal times.

So then how to feed your child without screens?

Strategies to feed your child without screens

  1. Assess family mealtime routine

We start by assessing how the family meal routine is structured. Is there enough time chalked out for meals? Are you rushed at mealtimes? Does the family get a chance to eat together? At least 2 meals a day? Once we know how mealtimes look like we can pinpoint areas where we may need to change things or where more help is needed to support the child’s independent feeding journey.

2. Adjust expectations 

Educate yourself on how much a toddler eats in a day, what toddler portion sizes look like, and how toddler appetite changes during growth spurts. Sometimes distraction feeding was set into place because of incorrect expectations around the quantity of food eaten and distracting a child while eating was an easy way to get more food in. Such forceful eating has its disadvantages in the long run. 

When you start weaning off screens at meal times expect your toddler to throw tantrums, eat very little, and not show any interest in food. Consistently implement the strategies mentioned below to start seeing some change in your toddler’s eating behavior.

3. Eat together as a family

Meal time is relaxing and interesting to children when the family eats together. Interested adults interest a child. Watching you eat, while you show how to eat helps the child understand how to navigate mealtime. There should be no pressure tactics used. Give simple instructions and model how to eat. With young children it is noted that a ‘do as I do’ approach works better than a ‘do as I say’ approach.

4. Give time to the child to adjust to a new routine

Give the child a heads-up about what is going to happen. Talk about the new dining table rules in simple language and why it’s important to eat without screens. You can go cold turkey or transition gradually, depending on what you think suits your child better. But have a plan in place.

If the child is finding it hard to go off screens completely try a slower transition e.g. 10 minutes then switch off screen for week 1, 5 minutes and screens off for week 2, screen after meals for week 3, and then on no screens at meal times.

5. Consistency is key

Remember consistency is key. Any new transition takes time. Do not be discouraged by a few slip-ups or tantrums that will surely come your way. Stay calm and keep encouraging your little one. Talk about how wonderfully they ate their food, describe the food in great detail, and show pride in how they are managing the transition period.

6. Make mealtime fun 

Make meal time fun for the transition period, buy new cute cutlery or plates that encourage your toddler to engage with food, and set positive experiences around meals outside of screens.

Make your toddler’s favorite meals and take a great interest in cooking and eating with them so they are encouraged to engage in meals.

7. Offer choice

In the same vein, offer your toddler a choice in what they would like to eat. Limit the options between 2 types of favorite meals. If they enjoy it, include them in cooking it with you. The process of being involved in the decision-making around the family meal encourages the child to try and eat on their own.

8. Division of responsibility

Last but not least, an important point to remember as we set positive feeding experiences for our toddlers is that we follow the Division of Responsibility (DOR). DOR means that the parent is responsible for plating up healthy meals and the child is responsible for how much or how little they eat. This responsive feeding technique puts the reins into the toddlers’ hands giving them a chance to independently respond to their satiety signals. The goal here is that over a period of time, the child will know their fullness levels and appetite well and develop a healthy relationship with food in the long run.

Related reading: How to stop toddler throwing food?

I hope these points help you stop screentime during meals and establish a peaceful and positive mealtime routine in the home.

feed your child without screen time

If you have any questions or ideas you would like to share do leave me a comment below.

Share on your Social Network

About Me

I'm Ophira, mama during the day and blogger by night. I love teaching parents how to raise healthy eaters who not only love the food on their plate but also respect their hunger cues. On this blog you will find all the evidence based information you need to help you feed your toddler, easy toddler friendly recipes and lots of tips and tricks to help your picky eater.

Leave a Comment