We all try to be the most caring, supportive and invested parents we can. We all wish our kids only the best. It comes naturally to us because we are all evolutionary wired to make sure our offspring is warm, safe and fed. But, unfortunately, since our primary instincts were developed in a pre-kids menu world, they might not be as effective as 1000 years ago.

And as if worrying about what our kids are eating today is not already a handful the research shows that  the way we feed them, or our parenting style in feeding seems to affect their future relationship with food, eating habits, ability to self-regulate food intake and maintain normal weight. Of course, parent-child feeding relationships are not an easy thing to study given a variety of factors that affect them but there are  some interesting patterns in the research findings available to us now.

Here are the 4 parenting feeding styles we discussed recently at our workshops– please keep in mind that sometimes parents switch from one to the other depending on the situation.

1. Authoritarian feeding style. In two words, it is a “clean plate” style of food parenting. Parents put a lot of pressure on a child to eat certain foods, finish what’s on the plate, restrict less healthy foods and in general disregard child’s preferences when it comes to eating. It is definitely the way my parents approached feeding when I was a kid because leaving food on a plate was considered very wasteful. Read The new rules of child feeding.

 Sample mealtime dialogue:

Child : “I do not want broccoli!”

Parent : “You have to eat the broccoli, otherwise you will get no dessert/no TV ”

 Research findings:

  • Diminished ability to recognize hunger-satiety cues
  • Children eat less fruit and vegetables
  • They are more likely to be overweight or underweight
  • Eat more of the restricted foods when have access to them
  • Show decreased enjoyment of food
  • Fussiness at mealtimes
  • Slow eating
  • Early satiety

2. Permissive feeding style. Permissive parents are not setting limits or providing clear boundaries when it comes to mealtimes. Their feeding style is “too soft”.  It is children who decide what they will be eating at mealtimes. Short-order cooking and grazing between mealtimes are some of the signs of permissive feeding style

Sample mealtime dialogue:

Child: “I do not want broccoli!”

Parent: “What do you want? I will fix you something else”

Research findings:

  • Children eat more junk foods and treats
  • Some studies show higher weight in preschoolers

3. Neglectful feeding style.  With this feeding style, there is a lack of structure in meals and unreliable meal schedule. Often  neither parent nor child knows when the next meal is coming. Parents may “forget” to eat and to feed the child. An empty refrigerator is a common sign of neglectful feeding style.

Sample mealtime dialogue:

Child: “When is dinner? What’s for dinner? ”

Parent: “ I have no idea”

Research findings:

  • Emotional insecurity in children
  • Preoccupation with food

 4. Authoritative feeding style. Sometimes called “Just Right” feeding style.  With authoritative feeding style, a lot of support is provided for the child to eat well and at the same time expectations for child’s behavior at mealtimes and overall maturity  are high.  Research shows that it is  the golden standard for feeding kids, providing an immediate relief from dinnertime battles and helping build life-long eating habits.

Sample mealtime dialogue:

Child: “I do not want broccoli. It is gross”

Parent: “We do not say bad things about the food we eat. You do not have to eat anything you do not like. There is plenty of food on the table to choose from”.

Research findings:

  • Children are more likely to self-regulate food intake
  • Eat higher amount of fruits, veggies, dairy foods
  • Tend to be leaner

Authoritative parents often use the Division of responsibility in feeding where the parent is responsible for what, when, where when it comes to feeding and the child is responsible for how much and whether to eat of what is offered.

A couple of important things to remember about authoritative feeding style:

  • You have to trust your child’s appetite. Your job as a parent is to preserve your children’s innate ability to self-regulate or restore it if has diminished already (this typically happens around the age of 5)
  • Dinner table has to become the happiest spot in your house.  Children will want to be there and feel privileged to be included in family meals. Read It does not matter what your child ate for dinner and Dinner failure. Or not?
  • Structure in meals and snacks is very important. Most children do well with 3 meals and 1-2 snacks in between. No grazing and no filling up on juice in between.
What feeding style did your parents use? Are you using the same with your children?

Parent-Child Interaction During Feeding — How It May Influence Kids’ Weight and Relationship With Food By Christin L. Seher, MS, RD, LD Today’s Dietitian Vol. 13 No. 4 P. 32

Jill Castle RD. What is your feeding style? www.justtherightbyte.com

Ellyn Satter: The child of mine: Feeding with love and good sense.


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