Do maternal perceptions of child eating and feeding help to explain the disconnect between reported and observed feeding practices? A follow-up study

Heidi J. Bergmeier, Helen Skouteris, Marion M. Hetherington, Rachel F. Rodgers, Karen J. Campbell, Rachael Cox

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Research demonstrates a mismatch between reported and observed maternal feeding practices. This mismatch may be explained by maternal cognitions, attitudes, and motivations relating to dyadic parent–child feeding interactions. These complex constructs may not be apparent during observations nor evidenced in self-report questionnaire. Therefore, the aim of this study was to use a qualitative approach to gain a more nuanced and contextualized understanding of (a) maternal perceptions of children's food intake control; (b) how parent–child mealtime interactions influence maternal feeding practices; and (c) ways in which mothers may promote healthy child eating and weight outcomes. Semistructured telephone interviews were conducted with 23 mothers (M = 38.4 ± 3.7 years of age) of preschool-aged children (M = 3.8 ± 0.6 years of age, 19 were normal weight, 14 were girls), who had previously completed child feeding questionnaire and participated in two home-based mealtime observations, 12 months apart. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and themes extracted to create the database. Four major themes emerged: (a) Maternal confidence in children's ability to regulate food intake is variable; (b) Implementing strategies for nurturing healthy relationships with food beyond the dining table; (c) Fostering positive mealtime interactions is valued above the content of what children eat; and (d) Situation-specific practices and inconsistencies. Findings indicate that maternal feeding practices are shaped by both parent and child influences, and child feeding is mostly guided by controlling the family food environment, rather than by directly pressuring or restricting their child's eating. Results also highlighted the need for research to consider both parent and child influences on child feeding.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12420
Number of pages11
JournalMaternal & Child Nutrition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • childhood obesity
  • feeding practices
  • maternal perceptions
  • mealtime interactions
  • preschoolers

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