Fifteen participants completed the study. Interviews lasted between 30 and 45 minutes. Participants identified themselves as Black, Hispanic, or White . All but two participants were female. Repetition of participants’ responses was observed after the eighth interview, and theoretical saturation (Corbin & Strauss, 2008
) was confirmed with the remaining seven interviews. Themes identified from interview data were summarized in relation to MGVPP constructs .
Participant and Child Characteristics , n=15 interviews
Attitudes toward vegetable parenting practices
Parents reported varied reasons why child vegetable consumption was important to them, including child health, weight management, and cognitive function. One mother said, “Because they’re good nutritional foods for their body. And their brain development is still pretty much in gear, and I just want them to have good eating habits in the long run.” Helping their child develop healthy eating habits, meeting the Dietary Guidelines, and having enough (and the right kind of) fuel for physical activity were additional reasons why their child’s vegetable consumption was important to parents. Parents articulated expectations of child behavior and health status associated with consumption of the daily recommended amount of vegetables (3 servings) including improved energy (vitality), development of good eating habits, setting a good example for others (e.g. younger siblings), being more open to trying new foods, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and increased vitamin intake. As one father stated, “You can tell the difference in the way your kid acts giving them some fresh good foods, wholesome foods. And I think that’s the best benefit for her where she can function better and concentrate better and feel better.” When parents were asked what they thought would happen if their child did not eat at least 3 servings of vegetables each day, parents suggested negative child outcomes such as increased behavioral problems (e.g. poor concentration), nutrient deficiencies, increased preference for junk food, gastrointestinal issues (e.g. constipation), or more frequent illness. In one mother’s words, “It’s very important because I worry if she’s getting enough iron and vitamins because sometimes when I take her to the doctor, he’d say it’s just a little bit on the low side. So, I’m trying to make sure it’s done everyday.”
Conversely, the majority of parents didn’t see disadvantages to their child eating 3 or more servings each day, although several parents suggested increased costs or increased food waste would be associated with more frequent vegetable purchases. One concerned parent stated, “Not only can it be costly to purchase it, as opposed to some other less healthy options, but then if it’s not used within a short amount of time then it gets thrown out.” Several parents mentioned the possibility of increased pesticide exposure with increased vegetable consumption if food was not properly washed and peeled, while another parent suggested the possibility of their child developing a vegetable aversion if “forced” to eat 3 or more servings daily.
Positive and negative anticipated emotions for vegetable parenting practices
To explore the potential role of emotions in food parenting motivation, parents were asked to imagine offering their child an unfamiliar vegetable; a familiar, liked vegetable; and a familiar, disliked vegetable, and then describe their feelings when they imagined their child eating or rejecting each of these foods.
When parents imagined their child eating a previously unfamiliar vegetable, most parents described their own responses as “I would be happy” and “I would be [pleasantly] surprised.” Several parents were neutral and did not ascribe any emotional response to this scenario. When asked to imagine that their child refused to eat a vegetable that was unfamiliar to him/her, about half of parents used negative emotional descriptors such as “challenged,” “disappointed,” and “frustrated,” while the other half said they would not be surprised or would feel neutral.
When asked to imagine that their child ate a familiar, liked vegetable, more parents reported neutral emotional responses, which many said was due to the fact that this behavior was consistent with their child’s typical behavior. However, when parents imagined their child refusing to eat a familiar, liked vegetable, many parents said they would feel disappointed or upset, and that they would be concerned that their child was ill or believed that their child might be playing a game. As one mother stated, “I would wonder why he doesn’t want to eat it. I would tell him to at least give it a try and see.”
When asked to think about their child eating a familiar, disliked vegetable, parents expressed a range of positive emotional responses, including surprise, excitement, happiness, as well as a “sense of accomplishment” or “feeling proud” about their child’s behavior. One mother described her response as, “I’ll be excited. Well, wow, you know, her mind is like open.” When asked to imagine their child refusing to eat a familiar, disliked vegetable, parents reported primarily negative emotions, including feelings of disappointment, frustration, and distress. A mother described her frustration as “I probably wouldn’t be surprised because I know he doesn’t like it. But I would still be discouraged ... it’s not that he doesn’t like it, it’s that he won’t try it. And so I get frustrated and irritated sometimes.” As before, several parents were neutral in their responses.
Subjective norms for vegetable parenting practices
Parents were asked to name the people who were most important in determining whether and how often vegetables were served to the family. Parents most frequently named their spouse or partner followed by their child or children. Spouses or partners were often reported as nutrition role models for the family. One mother described her and her husband’s roles as “I think it’s very important for us both because we’re role models. My husband is pretty big on health and he eats vegetables. So when I don’t feed him vegetables, he goes, ‘there’s no vegetables.’” Mother or mother-in-law, siblings or sisters or brothers-in-law, and friends were also cited by some as persons whose opinion mattered. As one parent said, “My mom has had some health conditions so she has changed the style of eating that she normally would eat. I’d like to have her approval, and I’d very much like to show her that I am making a conscious effort to feed my son good food.” When parents were asked how important it was to their spouse or partner, friend, sibling, or parent that their child ate at least three servings per day, all parents said it was “important” or “very important.”
Perceived behavioral control related to vegetable parenting practices
While all parents emphasized it was very important for children to eat adequate amounts of vegetables each day, most stated that their children did not regularly meet vegetable consumption guidelines. Reasons for not meeting the guidelines were often framed as “being in a struggle” or a “losing a battle” with children. As one mother put it, “Well, it’s important. I would like for her to but I just know that it’s a losing battle.” Child vegetable preferences, parent and spouse or partner vegetable preferences, vegetable availability in the home, availability of other foods in the home, and parent food preparation skills and resources were also reported as barriers to child vegetable consumption.
Food preferences were among the most often reported factors influencing child vegetable consumption. Parents spoke of their child’s preferences for meat over vegetables, hesitation to try new vegetables, preferences for (or aversions to) specific food textures or consistencies, and preferences for specific food presentation styles as examples of significant influences on child vegetable consumption. As one mother stated, “She doesn’t eat enough vegetables, and it’s because she doesn’t like hardly anything ... I literally bribe her most of the time to eat something.” Parents sometimes cited their own dislike of vegetables as a barrier to their child’s consumption of these foods. In one mother’s words, “She’s a meat lover so she likes to consume her meat first prior to eating her vegetables. And she’s not the only one.”
Availability of vegetables in the home and the related issues of cost, time, and preparation or cooking skills were also deterrents to some parents. Perceived lack of time to prepare these foods was a repeated theme, as was a perception of increased expense associated with purchasing vegetables. Several parents reported that while vegetables were available in their home, children chose snack foods rather than vegetables since they were easier to grab and eat, and parents preferred these foods since they required little to no preparation. One mother explained, “Sometimes the problem is for me to make sure that I have this peeled or chopped or prepared … a lot of times he’ll say, “I’m hungry” by the time I get the food ready he’s already like bugging me for some crackers or something else.” Several parents also said that they did not prepare vegetables due to lack of cooking or presentation skills, or a limited repertoire of vegetable recipes.
When asked how they might overcome these challenges, parents suggested specific practices that they have used or could use to increase their child’s vegetable intake including bribing their child with other more appealing foods, hiding vegetables in foods to “disguise the taste”, learning and using more kid-friendly preparation and serving methods, increasing availability and accessibility of vegetables in the home, and getting older siblings to role model healthy eating.
When asked who they go to for help to get their child to eat vegetables, parents cited friends, family members, caregivers, pediatricians, and the media. One mother said, “I would ask friends what they do or try. Internet is second probably. Look at the recipe and try it and see what could be kid friendly.” When asked to rate overall how difficult it was to get their child to eat vegetables, all parents in our sample rated this task as ‘somewhat difficult.’