We have developed three distinctly bad habits over the past four years. The first is that, despite an early commitment to no tv-watching at all and a later commitment to “screen-time” awareness, we all fell into a routine of starting our day with a show. It began, I think, when the sleeping at night was just so disrupted that when I discovered that he would sit for an hour of Sesame Street on my lap and I could nap, I was delighted. Of course I was going to do that.
The second came right along with this one: breakfast in front of the TV. We have always been fairly committed to no eating in front of the TV (for him and for us when he is awake) but with that early-morning Sesame Street-watching came the morning bottle and then the morning sippy cup of milk and, eventually, the entire morning meal, eaten in front of at least one show and often more in a row.
The next habit was what he was actually eating for breakfast. We’ve always been of the mind that there is no specific “breakfast” food, so if he woke up and requested chicken nuggets or a grilled cheese (which he actually did, sometimes) we gave it to him. At some point, this mode of thinking devolved to a place where if he woke up requesting cookies and chocolate chips, we gave him that, too.
So, what we ended up with was a 4-year-old who woke up, demanded candy, and then plunked himself in front of the TV for an hour to start his day. This was so not what I envisioned my child-rearing choices to be. To our tiny bit of credit, however, we did take him off high sugar first thing in the morning and swapped in buttered whole wheat toast and his usual cup of warm almond milk with a small squirt of TJ’s organic chocolate syrup. Still in front of a show, though, and still largely protein-free. So not only was he mindlessly eating while watching TV every day, he was also melting down an hour later when the carbs had burned off and he was left with nothing.
Often, we could offer eggs and he would sometimes eat them along with the toast, but more and more frequently, he’d lose his focus on the meal, engaged in the television, fill up on toast, and we’d be back at square one. Not to mention, there are only so many eggs one can buy/prepare/eat in a week and other decent options were not “portable” enough for the living room (like yogurt or a bowl of cereal.) On top of that, with the very rigid daily breakfast was also following a shortening list of the things he would eat throughout the rest of the day. If he started his day with carbs only, it seemed, he would eat carbs-only all day. Things were looking decidedly grim in this particular department.
Finally, a little later than I would have liked, but a lot sooner than never, we came to our senses: Breakfast at the dining room table. Every day.
It’s working out beautifully, I have to say. He was remarkably amenable to this change (presented simply as, “Eating and watching TV is not good for your body. We’re not going to do that anymore.”) It’s only been two days, but I already notice a huge difference in both the nutrition he is taking in and his later morning behavior. By making this one little change, we have reversed three bad habits. We eat a varied, balanced breakfast together, we talk to each other instead of staring at a screen, and we are both feeling more fortified heading into our day.
One change. That’s all it it took. Three birds. One stone. Dead.