TV Lunch, Every Day - How Bad?

Filed under: Opinions

So how bad is eating in front of the TV? Photo courtesy

This week's How Bad question comes via email: "My daughter is 4. I would say, regrettably, that she eats lunch in front of the TV most days. It probably started because we moved to a new house, which has a modern layout. The eating area is right next to the family room. Add in the new baby, and I find I use the TV as a way to keep her quiet while I get the baby's lunch ready.

"We never watch TV at dinner, and she does sit at the table for her meals, but I have to admit that the TV is on often at lunchtime. Ack! Embarrassing. How bad?"

To find out, I called Mommy Advisor Christine Palumbo, R.D., a nutritionist in private practice in a Chicago suburb who is an adjunct faculty member at Benedictine University.

"It's always tempting to use the television as a babysitter," she started. A tape is rolling in my mind of all the times I swore I'd never do that, and then, the times I have. "What mom hasn't done that numerous times?" (Whew). "It's so convenient and especially with the layout of the house that's described. "But I would limit the eating with the TV on, for two reasons..."1. Aware-eating promotes healthy eating. "Studies show that adults who eat in front of the TV or eat a meal while doing another activity often-times wolf down their food without noticing how much they're eating. So the 4-year-old is soon a 9-year-old, then 14-year-old, then a 23-year-old, and if she continues in this habit it can become a difficult pattern for her to stop.

"It's like smoking, people say they can quit anytime, maybe they can, but maybe not." The bottom line here: She may wind up having difficulty being smart about how many calories she's eating in the future because she's tuned out (literally) her sense of when she's full and how much she's consuming.

2. Mealtime can (actually) be fun and enjoyable. It's totally understandable that at times a mom just can't juggle two hungry kids at mealtime, especially if the baby is cranky (or everyone is low on sleep). That said, Palumbo suggests limiting the TV-lunching to say, 3 times a week. "Mom may want to save this trick for times when it's really needed. On a normal day, try to include the little girl in the feeding process. While Mom is feeding the baby the conversation can revolve around what they're going to do this weekend, or maybe the little girl can help decide what the baby's going to eat so you're involving her in that part of the process.

"Little kids love talking about babies and imagining themselves as a baby." So basically you're making feeding the baby fun time for both kids which definitely more work but in the end might be more enjoyable for both of you... except on those days when everyone's super cranky and then, a mom's got to do what a mom's got to do, right?

So, answer the question: How bad is it to feed your little kid lunch in front of the TV? "Well, it's not that bad. Once in a while, it's not bad at all. But even regularly, I'm going to give it a 4. It's not ideal but it's not that big of a deal. I would try to limit it to perhaps 3 times a week. It's certainly not as bad as many of the other things I can think of that people do in terms of feeding children and babies." Oh really? Like what? I got more scoop from Palumbo, so stay tuned for that info in a future column.

Have you had a less-than-perfect parenting moment and you're wondering, "How bad"? Send it to and it could get addressed in this column.

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.