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#4: iPad and Distracted Eating

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Today’s call is from Meredith, and she wants help cutting down iPad use at the dinner table. I totally use Peppa Pig to buy me some free time so I am not advocating for complete screen removal in your home – but today we will tackle how to move the screen away from mealtimes and discuss issues caused by distracted eating. 

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Meredith asked, “My daughter is almost three and I need some help with getting her to sit at the table for mealtime without the iPad or some sort of distraction. We also created a terrible habit of feeding her a lot, since we started feeding her more for weight gain when she was premature. So we fear that if we don’t feed her and encourage her to eat, that she won’t eat very much because she’s never interested in food. It’s also easier if we do get her to the table, to let her watch an iPad so that she’ll sit there and kinda be distracted. I know it’s terrible habits on both sides and I feel like we’re in a rut. I don’t know how to get out of it successfully without causing an epic meltdown because she’s almost three and those happen constantly. So anyways, I appreciate any help. Thanks!”


Meredith had two parts to her question. First is about the iPad as a distraction. 

“I do not blame anyone who’s resorted to screens at meals, I have resorted to screens at meals. The key is that we just don’t want to make it part of the regular routine.”


The good news? You don’t have to quit it cold turkey and break into a panic sweat about the epic tantrum that will result. That’s where a lot of us get overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. It doesn’t have to be that extreme to see results. Here’s my advice:

  1. Wait until the meal is ready to seat them. Toddlers have short attention spans.
  2. Be prepared to give them extra attention through this transition (even if it’s not sustainable for the long-term). It takes more effort up front.
  3. Get a visual timer. You can get one on your phone or on Amazon. Visual timers help our toddlers since they have no perception of time. 
  4. Start small – Begin with one minute of no screen time. Regardless of how they behave, give them the screen after the timer goes off. 
  5. Keep mealtime as positive as possible and make sure you pay attention to them throughout the meal. We want our toddlers to see that good things happen when they don’t have that screen.
  6. Allow a less distracting item at the meal. For example, you can have them choose a song to listen to while eating. You can allow them to bring a doll to the meal and feed the doll during the meal. Food play is a good thing for toddlers!
  7. Talk about enjoying their company.
  8. Talk about FUN THINGS ONLY.

Listen to the full episode to hear more about this step by step process to remove the screen from meal times, plus:

  • The problems that arise from distracted eating
  • How to use this teddy bear belly print out to help them tune into their body’s signals
  • What to do if you’re worried about your toddler being small and/or not getting enough to eat
    • Also, check out this post with tons of healthy ideas to boost calories 
  • How to appropriately divide YOUR job from your child’s job at mealtimes

Listen to the episode here 
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