As a parent, it can be challenging to always control the content that your child watches on the television. Even if you make sure that your toddler enjoys only age-appropriate shows, the advertisements can influence his thoughts and preferences significantly and undesirably. This especially holds true for food commercials, which are tempting and yet unhealthy. If kids are regularly exposed to junk food advertisements, for burgers and pizzas say, they will be less likely to consume nutritious and natural foods.

And since junk foods are usually full of calories, and excess salt and sugar, they hardly contribute to your little one’s growth or development. Your child doesn’t get the vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fibre he needs, from these foods. Also, watching TV excessively encourages a sedentary lifestyle, which adds on to the nutrition problem. Hence, parents need to be aware of the impact of fast food advertising on young minds, and find out ways to manage their kids’ TV-watching habits.

How to reduce the TV’s influence on your child’s food habits

So, now that you know how advertising affects food choices, as a parent, it is essential that you control the amount of television your child watches. Here are a few tips that can help.

  1. Be consistent with your communication about healthy eating

    While you cannot control the type of advertisements being shown on the television, you can control the long-term message you send to your child. By encouraging your child to make healthy choices, you can balance the temptation of fast food advertisements. However, if you give in to your child’s demands or take a neutral stance, your child will lean towards unhealthy eating habits. Start teaching your child about healthy eating from a young age.

  2. Avoid television during mealtimes

    If a child sees a pizza on the television while he is eating a bowl of rice, he will be tempted to throw a tantrum and demand a pizza instead. So, make mealtimes a no-television time. Eating without distractions also promotes mindful eating and gives you an opportunity to talk to your child about the health benefits of the food that he is eating.

  3. DVDs instead of television

    To reduce your child’s exposure to advertisements of unhealthy foods, you can consider renting or buying child-friendly DVDs. With the advent of streaming options, there are a number of children’s channels you can opt for, which show cartoons without the advertisements. Encourage your child to follow eating habits of cartoon characters like Popeye, who enjoys his spinach.

  4. Involve your child in the kitchen

    Encourage your child to help you cook. Most children are happy making dough and rolling chapattis. You can also ask them to tear lettuce leaves and make salads. This will give them a sense of achievement. They are also more likely to want to eat food that they have helped prepare. Give children roles to play in every meal to make them feel important - for example, you could ask them to lay the table or wash the vegetables.

  5. Limit screen time

    Watching television doesn’t just influence food habits, but it also influences a child’s behaviour and mental development. Ideally, screen time should be overseen by an adult to ensure that the child is not exposed to violent content. Instead of watching television, encourage your child to play outdoors.

  6. Be a good role model

    Last but not the least, set a good example for your children. You cannot expect them to eat healthy and watch less television if they see you snacking in between meals and binge-watching shows. If you enjoy a particular TV show, watch it after your child has gone to sleep. Remember, children learn by imitating those around them. So, limit your use of electronics to encourage your children to do the same.

While watching TV for a couple of hours every day can provide relaxation to your child, remember the above tips to ensure a healthy lifestyle for him or her. Try and encourage outdoor activities or hobbies like reading or painting, to minimise TV-watching and boost cognitive skills.

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