To our knowledge, the present study is the first to use an emic approach to understand low-income parents’ perspective of how they try to get their pre-school children to consume F&V and how their own food parenting behaviours relate to one another. This approach included: (i) engaging parents to generate a list of feeding practices they typically used; (ii) asking parents to organize these feeding practices into PP categories; (iii) testing whether parents could be clustered into patterns of use of the parenting categories; and (iv) investigating how these PP categories and clusters were associated with children’s F&V intake. This approach is different from previous feeding practice research, which has focused primarily on understanding the effects of restrictive and controlling practices on F&V consumption in children(11
). It is note-worthy that some of the parenting practices which on the surface may appear to be similar were placed in different categories. However, the resulting parenting practice categories represent how parents collectively view the similarities and relationships of these F&V parenting practices.
There was no significant association of the five PP categories with children’s F&V consumption. Alternatively, when combined into clusters, the Non-directive Food Parenting cluster retained a significant positive association with children’s home F&V consumption () even after controlling for various other factors that might influence child F&V consumption, including parental feeding style. This association was lost if parental F&V consumption was included in the model. Given that parental and child F&V intake are likely correlated for several reasons – such as a shared home availability and accessibility of F&V (typically determined by the parent), parental role-modelling of dietary behaviours, and shared genetic and behavioural-based preferences for F&V – its role within the framework of F&V parenting practices may be difficult to interpret. In addition, the parents reported both their own and their child’s dietary intake, inducing a likely significant correlation by the common reporting bias/error for the parent and the child’s intake.
Parents in the Non-directive Food Parenting cluster were different from parents in the other two clusters because they tended to use parenting practices in the enhanced availability/accessibility and teachable moments categories more frequently, with lower use of practices in the firm discipline category (). Parenting practices in the firm discipline category rely on controlling practices that are highly directive and external to the child (such as threats, rewards, pressure to eat and restriction)(46
). Several of these have been shown to be counterproductive in getting children to eat F&V(11
). On the other hand, teachable moments may also be considered a type of control, but is non-directive and allows for child autonomy(46
). Parenting practices that increase the home availability of F&V may be considered a way to structure the feeding environment to maximize the likelihood that children will consume F&V(45
). Home F&V availability has consistently been shown to be a predictor of F&V consumption in school-aged children and adolescents(32
) and was a predictor of child F&V intake in our models.
The concept of authoritative food parenting grew from the general parenting style literature. Hughes et al.
proposed that warmth, control and structure are dimensions that provide a more comprehensive framework to identify authoritative food parenting practices and investigate parental influences on children’s eating behaviours(45
). Authoritative food parenting practices likely include those that are warm (nurturing), provide proactive structure for healthy eating, and use more non-directive controlling practices to promote F&V intake in children. The emic approach used in the current study identified additional F&V parenting practices and broadens parenting practices to include both positive and negative practices that may fall into these three dimensions. The exploratory analysis found the combination of F&V parenting practices that provide structure through practices such as enhanced home availability/accessibility and non-directive control through teachable moments with low use of highly controlling directive practices, such as firm discipline, may be a constellation of authoritative practices that promote F&V consumption in young children. These relationships need to be investigated utilizing etic approaches to further develop the authoritative food parenting framework and validate measures of these three dimensions of warmth, structure and type of control and test them in longitudinal observational and experimental study designs.
The analysis also found ethnicity to be significantly associated with F&V consumption in children. Hispanic ethnicity was associated with greater F&V consumption in children in our sample, which supports ethnic differences in F&V consumption among children(46
) and adults(47
) identified in other studies. Further research is needed to clarify the role that culture has on children’s F&V consumption.
The strengths of the present research are the large sample from two regions of the country and data that reflect the perspective of the parent in trying to encourage their child to eat F&V. In addition, the parent/child dyads who participated in this study were recruited from Head Start centres and represent a low-income sample with high participation of ethnic minorities. Alternatively, several limitations include the generalizability of these results to other populations of families; and all of the behavioural data were based on self-report, which may have reporting biases. A measure was used in order to statistically correct for possible social desirability reporting bias, but it had low internal consistency in our sample. Other research subsequently found problems with brief measures of social desirability(48
). Further research will need to assess whether using longer, better measures of social desirability increases correlations of interest. Information about the frequency and consistency of use of these parenting practices were not obtained. Parents who frequently and consistently used these practices likely may have different effects on their child’s behaviour than parents who infrequently or inconsistently used these parenting practices.
It will be important to replicate these findings with refined measurement tools in other families with young children of varying socio-economic and ethnicity/racial backgrounds. Preferably, this would be done in a longitudinal sample to assess how the PP categories and PP clusters are related to young children’s F&V consumption over time. Parenting practices that have an effect on the child’s immediate consumption of certain foods (such as vegetables) may not be effective or even have the opposite effect in the long term. If these relationships of food parenting clusters to child consumption are replicated in future studies, experimental studies would be warranted to test the effect of training parents to use the authoritative feeding practices, while avoiding the use of others, to facilitate child F&V consumption.