Stefanie Valakas, Dietitian, Baulkham Hills NSW
19 June 2018
In the spirit of Men’s Health Month, let’s explore the relationship between father and child when it comes to feeding. Often we are focused on the feeding relationship between mother and child, however, as research in the area of father and child feeding relationships continues to emerge, it’s important to include fathers when trying to improve your child’s feeding behaviours.
Father and child feeding relationships
Getting fathers involved in feeding in a positive way, from helping in the preparation of their child’s meal, to the process of feeding and being present at mealtimes, positively influences their child’s eating behaviours.
However, there are a few key differences between a mother’s & father’s feeding practices, according to feeding behaviour research:
- Fathers are less likely to restrict food intake or limit access to particular foods, compared to mothers
- Fathers are more likely to use a “pressure to eat” feeding strategy with their child
We know that pressure feeding can override a child’s in-born ability to self-regulate what they eat; that is they are naturally completely in-tune with their own hunger and satiety cues, able to seek and eat food when they feel hungry and also know when to refuse when they are full. It is thought if we promote feeding practices that avoid pressure eating and restriction that we can help preserve a child’s natural ability and reduce the incidence of childhood obesity.
This evidence highlights how important it is to educate fathers about how parents decide on the key aspects of a meal including:
- what will be offered (nutritional quality of the meal or snack),
- where it will be offered (for example, at the dinner table, on the couch, outside), and
- when (mealtime routine) it will be offered.
Whilst it’s your child’s role to decide if they’ll eat and how much they will be eating.
Creating a pressure-free environment at mealtimes from both parents is important to allow your child to eat in a calm atmosphere and feel comfortable to explore new foods as well as honour those all important hunger and satiety cues.
fathers are keen to be involved in mealtimes
According to research, fathers are interested in their children’s mealtimes and strive to be present for family meals. They also feel responsible to organise meals and what foods their child is offered, at least half of the time.
Family meals can be challenging with late hours and work commitments as well as children’s sporting or extra-curricular activities leaving little time for sitting together and enjoying dinner together. However, I encourage all families to strive for at least 1 or 2 family meals per week, and more if they can; scheduling out the time to make this a priority.
The family meal is an opportunity for your child to see all of their family members eating foods they are yet to try. Positive role modelling by Mum and/or Dad as well as siblings will naturally generate interest in these foods… eventually! My spin on the old age adage of “you want what you can’t have” is “you want what’s on someone else’s plate!”
Keeping the conversation at the table pleasant and avoiding demands to eat certain items off the plate will create a pressure-free and safe environment for your child to eat, try and enjoy new foods!
Father and child activity levels
Beyond the dinner table, active fathers also positively influence their child to be more active!
Just another reason to be a positive role model for health behaviours both in the kitchen and at the table and in the park too!
Dietitian, Baulkham Hills NSW
Stefanie has a strong interest and passion for paediatric nutrition, with a focus on creating positive behaviours and habits around food from childhood leading to a positive relationship with food in adulthood. Stefanie also has an interest in general nutrition support across the ages and works with a wide range of nutritional concerns, assisting individuals and families to navigate the confusing world of nutrition successfully.