What’s Your Feeding Style?


You may have heard of parenting styles and may have wondered what yours is like. Did you know that feeding styles are a sub-category of parenting styles?
As fussy eating specialist, I am interested to look at them in the context of children’s food refusals.

Feeding a child is a long term endeavour, think 3 meals a day until your child is 18! That’s thousands of meals! For the parents I work with mealtime is often dreaded. It is ridden with anxiety and guilt.

When a child is fussy, feeding often becomes complicated. Children are particularly strong at making it known they are not willing to eat. I have seen children who clamp their mouth, turn their mouth away, run away from the table and argue with their parents. If children decide not to eat…parents will lose the battle. But it does not have to be a battle!

Taking 3 minutes to understand your feeding style will give you precious keys to support your child overcome fussy eating.

See if you fit in any of these statements relate to you, then read about the feeding style they can be associated to.

Indulgent or lax

“I have given up”. “I will give the kids what they eat, I just want peace”. “My children eat chicken nuggets and pasta most days”. “My kids are always hungry, and I give them what they want”. “My child opens the fridge and helps himself when he wants”. Those statements can be associated with an Indulgent feeding style.

The cons: as the child takes charge of food choices he limits his opportunities to discover new foods. He may reinforce his perception and that of his parents that some foods are “his safe foods”. As the child is allowed to eat whenever he wants, he is less likely to have an appetite during mealtimes, when a variety of food could be offered. Parents in this group cater to their children, this may reassure them to start with but it is self-limiting, as children will be unable to expand their food variety and are are likely to go for high calorie, low nutrient foods. This feeding style is associated with a higher risk to become overweight.

Controlling or Authoritarian

“My child has to finish his veggies, so he can get desert”, “wasting food is not an option, besides a few extra peas will no hurt her”. “In our family we forbid junk, I provide healthy foods always, and I hide everything in juices, so my children consume the right quantity of veggies”.This feeding style resembles a Controlling feeding style, which is coercive and uses rewards or punishment to get children to eat specific foods. Children’s appetite is often overruled.

The cons: It has been shown to backfire as fewer vegetables and fruit are consumed overall. It is also associated with a risk for children to be more underweight or overweight. I wrote about how this feeding style created havoc in Cath’s eating and feeding life, in the kiddipedia article here.

Uninvolved or neglectful

As a fussy eater specialist, I have not encountered this style of feeding. Parents in this category may be depressed or unwell and have limited resources. Nonetheless, this style is associated with a lack of structure, limits, and food security. There may be limited contact with children during meals as the parent ignores signs of hunger or other emotional needs. There may be limited foods on offer.

The cons: It is associated with a greater risk of obesity.

Responsive or Authoritative

“I am aware my child needs a bit more time to accept this food and I am not fussed about it. I choose what foods to serve.” “When we introduced solids, we could tell he wasn’t ready so we backed off a little bit and started again”, “I would never force my child to eat all the food on their plate”, all these statements I have heard can be associated with an authoritative feeding style. Parents who are responsive feeders provide structure and limits around mealtimes. They are present at mealtimes to model a good relationship with food and eating. They provide adequate nutrition, in a form, texture or cooking style that is adapted to a child’s developmental stage.

Pros: this feeding style is associated with better outcomes for kids

Can you change your feeding style?

If you thought that putting the “right food” on a child’s plate was all that mattered, I hope this post gives you insight in how relationships in feeding matter and impact our children’s health prospects. Can you change your feeding style? Just like it is hard to change your parenting style, changing your feeding style is extremely hard. Awareness is a first and essential step in the right direction. Here you can read how I helped Cath, reboot her feeding relationship with her two children.

Marie-France is a children’s nutritionist, based in Melbourne who specialises in fussy eating. She does online and in-home consults.

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