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Managing toddler meal times without screen

Ten years and counting! This is the number of years me and my husband has survived without a big television at home. And before you pass your judgement, let me tell you that we do watch movies and all the stuff, but we do on our laptop. I know not good for eyes hence it helps us limit our time automatically. Over the years, I have realized we have read more, talked more, walked more, slept more, and of course fought more ;).

When we had our twins, of course we had no time on hands to think of seeing something on our phones, forget television. And then slowly as my girls were growing up we wanted to continue the “tradition.” Of course, in todays world, it was very hard for us not to give in the temptation of having a peaceful meal or “me” time while your child is not dependent on you and yet enjoying. So, yes it did take a lot for us as a parent and then me as a mom to hold up to the policy of not showing television to kids, specially during meals. As we had no screen culture much before Covid hit us, we were forced to re-evaluate our strategy now and see if it still works with my husband WFH and me preparing for my exam and doing freelance projects. And it does hold up!

So here I am once again with my top five learnings as a mom of multiples of how I resisted the temptation of this engrossing and a rich medium, especially during meal times.

What you sow is what you reap

There is a saying in Hindi language: “Boye beej khajoor ka tua aam kaha se hoye.” It means, as you sow, so shall you reap. If you watch something while you eat or always have the phone with you on the table, then it is, in my perspective, unfair to expect kids not to follow the same. As a parent we try to keep the table free of gadgets, especially during meal time. If I really have to keep something, I keep books. Try it!

Now, I live far away from my family and during this time of a global crisis, I want to make sure I am available on the phone. So, I do am connected, but I have a bluetooth that helps me take urgent or required calls during meal times. So yes, we all need to do what we need to do. Just get the right equipments that work for you!

Develop interest about food

Experience is the best teacher. Encouraging kids to help in kitchen, showing them the food you make, the vegetables you chop, the ingredients you put in the food, etc, not only helps them get interested in food but slowly and steadily it narrates a story of how food is cooked with love and effort. As I write this post, this is what happened to me in the morning. I usually involve my kids in making clarified butter. Today during lunch time, they for some reason wanted to eat it. So I gave them a small portion in two bowls. Once they were done, we added little experimentation for taste. I added little salt. Then, I added sugar. They were so amused with the entire thing. And they tried it with the vegetable I made, then the bread (roti). And finally when they were done, I asked them to keep it back as we don’t want to waste it. So they said, “Mumma, we can reuse it.” Isn’t this statement worth all the effort? And with all this experimentation and talking, we finished our meal in 20 minutes (both kids).

When kids see the effort, love, and time that goes into food, you can take advantage of meal time to talk about how things were made. What is the name of the vegetable they are eating. I often ask my 2.5 years toddlers what all I have put in the curry and they come up with amusing combinations like cheese and jaggery, honey and okra, etc. What a statisfaction it is when your toddler walks up to you and ask “Mumma, what are you making, cumin rice?

Meal time engagement

I am not an aloof parent, neither an idealistic one. I have my good and bad days with kids. For example, some of my bad days are when I have to manage two extremely moody twins ready to bite each other. Yes, literally bite each other! I have, over a period of time, developed the concept of meal time engagement planning. Some activities I always keep in my kitty are:

  • Coloring sheets and crayons
  • Stickers
  • Books – we just don’t read books, we actually try to read them sometimes beginning from the end. It is fun. Try it!
  • Physical photo albums with you have any
  • Calendar, if you are teaching months/ name of the week days – these days we are trying to associate month names via family member birthdays.

Breaking the monotony

Change is always good, whether it is in the routine, food, rules, etc. 🙂 I try changing the meal place once in a while, especially during the lock down. For example, every once in a while we eat in the kitchen, sometimes, in their art room, and most times in the dinning area on their small table. We talk about the room, things we do in the room, etc. What is constant in this their eating table. So, if you want to try going off screen, try getting a small portable table that you can use at various locations and is easy to clean for kids.

The art of letting go

I am human. I am a parent. I have my thresholds. It took me sometime to realize my limits and when I really want to let go of the no screen culture. So, here is my to go list to check if the screen requirement meets the criteria.

  • Sickness – I don’t think twice when kids are sick. Unfortunately, with twins our sickness period lasts longer than usual. So, I let go when I see the peak and I really want them to eat few bites to give them the required energy and medicines.
  • Extremely exhausted and tired mom: There are days when I am emotionally or physically not well and it is extremely difficult for me to muster the patience and the time to spend during meals.

Everyone have their own thresholds. These are mine and I try not to add to the list. 🙂

I am not a parent who has made “no screen” time my ultimate goal. I live in this world, in this age and time. I do dream of days when I can sit with my girls and watch all the fun movies! We live away from family, so video conference is the only way I can have my girls keep up with the family. All I am trying to attempt is to strike a balance and remove the association of food with screen. I want them to feel food, respect food, and love food. And I know, with extremely agile kids at home my journey is not going to be easy so soon. But at least I will have the satisfaction of giving it a try.

In this time of crisis, when I talk to parents, they all tell me one common thing – screen allowance has increased. And I just want to question myself before increasing it for my children – have I tried it all? To turn parenting into an opportunity, we need to overcome our own fears and judgement models. It needs courage to tell yourself that it is fine if the child eats less, it is important we let them enjoy and feel the food.

Yes, it is very tough – with career to take care of, house to run, and kids to manage, and a life to live. But then, who said parenting was easy?

Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy.

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