The dynamic of doing more than one thing at a time has become natural nowadays, even at meal times. Despite the many advice we receive daily from nutritionists, the habit of eating in front of a device is more than frequent in Spanish homes. While the little ones eat (fast), the adults finish the housework or work matters. Or we also eat, cell phone in hand or watching TV. The scene is even more evident in restaurants, where children are “hooked up” from aperitif to after dinner.
However, several studies have already found that eating while watching screens is harmful. One posted in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity observed that children between 10 and 12 years old who ate in front of the television increased their body mass index (BMI) and that the dietary quality was poorer. In Spain, 41% of minors are overweight and obese, so it is still alarming that nine out of 10 Spaniards (91.62%) admit to eating in front of screens during some of their daily meals, according to an investigation sociological study of Teachers of Hojiblanca, advised by Dr. Jesús Porta-Etessam, head of the Neurology section of the San Carlos Clinical Hospital. Although the sample consisted of adults, the data could be extrapolated to the child population, since, as the neurologist says, “we do things and children imitate us.” They do what they see. In fact, more than 87% of those surveyed consider it a bad example.
They eat more, without feeling satiated
Many parents turn to screens for children to eat, especially in cases of those who do it wrong. More than once we will have heard “is that if I put your drawing, he eats everything that is on the plate and so everyone is so happy ”. But what happens is that they neither know what they eat nor enjoy it, and it is possible that they are increasing their intake, almost without realizing it. “During childhood the brain is more plastic, so the creation of habits is essential. We adults are accustoming children to taste very simple elements such as carbohydrates, and perhaps we should focus on teaching them to taste and be able to appreciate another series of aromas and flavors, ”says Porta-Etessam.
Miriam Huerta González, dietician-nutritionist of D-Médical Clinic, adds that when children eat by focusing their attention on the screens, they do so distracted; faster; their brain does not process and they do not feel satiated in that meal or in the following: “They do not have time to know they are satiated and they can eat up to 10% more in that meal; but a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritition it shows that in the subsequent meal they can eat up to 25% more ”.
They don’t just eat more, they make it worse
It is not only the quantity of food, but also the quality. A study by the International University of Catalonia (UIC) concludes that children between the ages of one and 14 who spend more than an hour a day in front of a screen eat more junk food. An explanation can be attributed to the advertising of unhealthy foods, directed at the little ones. Hopefully that will be reduced from 2022, when the new decree law of the Ministry of Consumption comes into force, which will veto advertisements for foods high in salt, sugar and fat.
However, eating worse is not only due to advertising. Huerta maintains that the children “eat less vegetables, more fried foods and more ultra-processed food. Even the influence of the TV on, even if they are not aware of it, causes the quality of the menus to decline. And, many times the rush makes us put only what they like on their plate ”.
Eating as a family strengthens bonds
Experts recommend calm and mindfulness when it comes to eating. What is now known as mindful eatingIt is nothing more than that children spend time eating, in company, savoring food, enjoying it with their five senses and socializing. The nutritionist affirms that this habit also impacts the emotional quality of children: “It is better for them to eat as a family than to eat alone, since this way they learn the rules of the table and it encourages parents and children to interact, tell each other how they have gone the day, how do you feel or have a laugh. Teaching all this from a young age will sow a good habit as they grow up ”.
Paying attention to the screens while we eat makes it increasingly reduced and dispersed. When children are aware of what they eat, “they chew better, they respect the times and are satisfied; they appreciate flavors, textures, and, therefore, improve the quantity and quality of what they eat. In this way, the meal will also be a moment of relaxation and tranquility ”, says the expert.
Conscious eating will make them “enjoy food, aromas and flavors more, let’s change the tempo, and that is beneficial in a world where we do everything at high speed, even if there is no rush,” says Porta-Etessam. . As an alternative to screens, the project he advises has developed a creation of sound environments, which has been shown to favor concentration and better live the full experience: “The diner can be more aware of the process and participate in the gastronomic process in a multisensory way and without distractions”.
Help your children eat away from the screens
From the General Council of Official Associations of Dietitians-Nutritionists, give us some suggestions to prevent children (and adults) from eating in front of their devices:
- The first thing, make them participate. “Collaborating in the preparations, helping to set the table, placing the bread in the bread basket, filling the jug with water or carrying a fountain will not only teach them to carry out these tasks, but we can also take the opportunity to teach them how the dishes are placed. glasses and cutlery ”, indicates the dietitian-nutritionist Marta Otero, from the professional association of Galicia (Codinugal).
- Encourage communication. Once we are at the table, we can dedicate this time to talk about different topics that are of interest to you. In addition, creating a pleasant atmosphere at mealtime will make them feel like that moment. “We must be able to adapt this conversation to their level and vocabulary so that they do not feel displaced from the table. When they are curious about some dishes, we can explain the cooking methods to them and encourage them to learn, ”says Otero.
- Well presented dishes. An attractive presentation of food is always more interesting; children will spend time admiring what they eat and will be able to enjoy it.
- Your cellphone? Off the table too. “If they are learning to eat, it is important that they see their parents eat well, that they eat salads, legumes, vegetables … And that they are the first to remove their cell phone from the table. But they won’t learn it just by telling them; you have to teach by example, ”says Miriam Huerta.
- Organize the purchase and menus for the week. Planning will be key to avoid pulling the first thing we find. And when eating out, “it is not convenient to have them at the table for two hours. If possible, it is better to go to places suitable for children, where there are plans for them, without necessarily having to eat fast food ”.
- Discover together. Porta-Etessam suggests that we sit down with the children and try to discover flavors and aromas and ask them what they feel, what they smell, let them taste it, detect whether there is sweet or salty … appreciate flavors that they have not been able to discover before. And maybe we reduce that craving for fatty food and carbohydrates. “
- Also when I am alone. If, due to family circumstances, children have to eat alone, parents usually want to make sure that they are going to eat, so they prepare what they like, not always thinking about nutritional quality: “In those cases, it is good to teach to eat well when the family is there, so that when there is no one at home they apply the same. Leaving the food prepared, that it is varied and with a good presentation, will be key ”.
- And if they are already ‘hooked.’ Ideally, explain the benefits of avoiding eating in front of screens. The Codinugal expert affirms that, depending on their age, we can resort to different arguments: “A good strategy can be a change in the content of what they see. Putting content that attracts them less or makes them monotonous and boring ”. Another formula is to leave the device on just before eating and tell the child that we will turn it on as soon as we finish: “In this way he will learn little by little that, while he is eating, it is not good for him to do something else and here we will start conversation and give them responsibilities ”. Otero also proposes fun and family games that keep them away from the screens until it’s time to eat.
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