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Title: Getting my child to eat the right amount. Mothers' considerations when deciding how much food to offer their child at a meal

item JOHNSON, SUSAN - University Of Colorado
item GOODELL, L. SUZANNE - North Carolina State University
item WILLIAMS, KIMBERLY - Washington State University
item POWER, THOMAS - Washington State University
item HUGHES, SHERYL - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)

Submitted to: Appetite
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/3/2014
Publication Date: 12/12/2014
Citation: Johnson, S.L., Goodell, L., Williams, K., Power, T.G., Hughes, S.O. 2014. Getting my child to eat the right amount. Mothers' considerations when deciding how much food to offer their child at a meal. Appetite. 88:24-32.

Interpretive Summary: Mothers report that young children's eating behaviors are challenging and worrisome; both with regard to the nutritive quality and quantity that children consume, and in terms of children's development and growth. Nearly one-third of US preschool children are reported to be overweight or obese. A multitude of variables influence mothers' decisional processes regarding how much food to serve their children at a meal. We constructed a conceptual model, grounded in the data collected from mothers and the literature, and synthesized from the themes that were identified. A sound intervention approach could combine elements of developmentally appropriate portion sizes with principles of responsive feeding; tailoring such an intervention to the type of eater the mother perceives the child to be. These strategies, paired with information regarding appropriate amounts to offer young children, would likely lead to improved feeding experiences for both mothers and children.

Technical Abstract: Feeding young children successfully requires parenting skills,trust that children will eat, and nutrition and child development knowledge to ensure that foods and the amounts offered are developmentally appropriate. Mothers are often responsible for determining how much food is offered to their children; however, the influences on mothers' decisions regarding how much to offer their children – their motivations, goals for feeding and child consumption – have not been investigated. Study aims included gathering qualitative data regarding mothers' decisional processes related to preparing a dinner meal plate for her preschooler. Low income mothers were recruited from preschools in the Denver, CO metropolitan area to participate in semi-structured interviews. Mothers prepared a plate for their preschooler and were asked about influences on their decisions about portion sizes and their expectations for children's eating. Data were coded by two independent coders using a consensus coding process and analyzed by investigators. Three themes emerged: (1) portion sizes differ for children who are "good" eaters and "picky" eaters; (2) mothers know the "right amounts" to serve their child; and (3) mothers have emotional investments in their children's eating. Some influencing factors were child-centered (e.g. child's likes and dislikes, "picky" and "good" eaters, and foods previously eaten in the day) and some related to adult expectations and concerns (nutrient content and waste). Interventions focusing on portion size may bemore effective if tailored to the mothers' perceptions regarding her child's eating characteristics.