Preventing Children from Eating in Front of Screens

Eating in front of screens makes children more likely to develop excess weight or a dysfunctional relationship with food.
Preventing Children from Eating in Front of Screens
Sharon Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Capeluto.

Last update: 04 February, 2023

Eating in front of screens isn’t a habit that’s exclusive to children. In fact, a good part of the adult population watches television or uses a cell phone during lunch or dinner. Even though the consequences are plain to see, multitasking is a dynamic that has become part of modern cultures. It refers to doing several things at once, without focusing our attention on any of them.

When multitasking moves to the table on a frequent basis, it doesn’t take long for the physical and mental health effects to appear. In this article, we’ll tell you why it’s so important to prevent children from eating in front of screens and how to go about it.

Mealtimes: A daily challenge in the home

Food and the act of eating reflect relevant aspects regarding the physical, cognitive, and emotional development and growth of children. Therefore, it’s important to take care of their diet, as well as the relationship they establish with food.

Often, mealtimes become somewhat conflictive, either because little ones complain about the food on their plate, because they’re excessively selective, or because they refuse to eat altogether. Therefore, a common strategy to deal with this scenario is to offer them entertainment that’s high in stimuli by means of some technological device. This way, the family’s often able to eat calmly and without the presence of tantrums.

By the end of 2022, a study carried out by the Finis Terrae University, which was part of the “Nestlé for Healthy Children” campaign, observed that 70 % of the people interviewed currently have at least one bad eating habit, such as eating in front of the television or computer.

A child eating fast food while lying in bed and watching something on a laptop computer.
The harmful effects of making a habit of eating in front of screens are diverse and significant. For example, it increases the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

The consequences of children eating in front of screens

The fact that children occasionally eat while watching cartoons on TV or enjoying music videos on their cell phones doesn’t represent a serious inconvenience. The same can be said about teenagers who sporadically eat while watching their favorite YouTubers and influencers or while using instant messaging applications.

However, this issue becomes problematic when it becomes the rule. That is, when they eat in front of screens more often than not. Among the main consequences, we can highlight the following:

  • Disconnection with food: We lose track of the quantity, taste, texture, and temperature of the food we eat. In addition, the nutritional quality is usually poorer.
  • Increases the risk of excess weight and obesity: Impulsive and unconscious eating takes away the possibility of consciously choosing the quality and quantity of your dish. In addition, by paying attention to the content you watch or listen to through technological devices, it becomes more difficult to decipher the feeling of fullness and, therefore, stop eating.
  • Increases the risk of developing a binge eating disorder: The prevalence of binge eating is higher when eating in front of screens, as a large amount of food is ingested even without noticing it.
  • Increased risk of intoxication: We know that technological devices contain a good amount of bacteria that could contaminate our food if we share the table with a tablet or a cell phone.

Strategies to prevent children from eating in front of screens

Every family has its own rules and parenting styles. Some are more rigid, while others are more flexible and permissive. Whatever your case, you can adapt these recommendations to your own needs in order to prevent children from eating in front of screens.

1. Lead by example

Remember that children carefully observe what we adults do. They even give more importance to our actions than to our words. Therefore, it’s to be expected that they’ll want to watch cartoons while they eat lunch if you’re checking your social media or watching a TV program.

So, if you want your children not to eat in front of screens, it’s important that you teach by example and choose to put aside your cell phone or computer during mealtimes.

A happy family eating without screens.
To avoid screens at mealtimes, it’s a good idea to encourage communication. For example, spend time at the table chatting about how each family member’s day has been or about other matters of interest.

2. Create a pleasant atmosphere

Taking advantage of meals to chat as a family is a great alternative. In addition, in order to create a pleasant atmosphere, you can present the dishes in a creative and attractive way for the children. This way, you can generate in them the feeling that mealtimes can be pleasant and fun, even without the presence of screens.

3. Practice conscious eating

Conscious eating, also called mindful eating, is an interesting proposal that aims to experience the act of eating through mindfulness. It’s about including the five senses and being able to connect with food in a healthier way. This is a habit that has a positive impact on the emotions of the people who practice it and, in turn, promotes harmony in the family at mealtime.

Meals should be a special time to share as a family

When children pay attention to screens, they fail to be aware of what they’re eating and are less able to appreciate the flavors, textures, smells, or colors of food. In this regard, encouraging family communication at mealtime to replace screens can be a good option. Also, practicing mindful eating can be a good alternative, as it brings enormous benefits. It’s important that lunch and dinner be experienced every day as moments of enjoyment and tranquility.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Besoli, G., Palomas, N & Chamarro, A. (2018). Uso del móvil en padres, niños y adolescentes: Creencias acerca de sus riesgos y beneficios. Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Espor. Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Aloma 2018, 36(1), 29-39. 
  • Nestlé por Niños Saludables & U. Finis Terrae. (2022). Observatorio Nutricional. Chile.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.