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Do you know you’ll feed your child approximately 28,000 times before he leaves the nest?


While feeding is one of the most time-consuming jobs of parenthood, it’s often thankless and plagued with insecurity. And a lot of work! The effort to feed a child involves planning meals and menus, procuring food, preparing and serving it, and cleaning it all up.


The surprising fact is this: Just because you get all the nutrition details and food figured out doesn’t guarantee you will raise a healthy eater.


One important determinant to your success with nutrition and feeding your family is your feeding style. Parent feeding styles, or the attitudes and actions you use in the process of feeding your child, closely mirror your parenting style. While one feeding style is generally used most of the time, all the feeding styles can overlap and mingle.


Feeding styles also mimic our own eating experiences as a child–they are deeply ingrained and our “go to” method for feeding our own children. There are four parenting styles and as an extension of this, feeding styles (be sure to read to the bottom!):


Authoritarian feeding style is also known as a “parent-centered” style. In the realm of feeding, this style is associated with “the clean plate club,” where rules about eating are emphasized, from trying foods to completing a meal. Dessert is contingent upon eating dinner. Parents plate the food for their children. Eating is directed by the parent, rather than self-directed by the child. A child may become resistant to trying new food, picky, or an over-eater. Weight problems, both underweight and overweight, are correlated with this feeding style.


Permissive feeding style is also known as “the say yes to anything parent,” and reflects a child-directed style. Even though the parent says “no” or a limitation may be the first response, “yes” ultimately reigns. The classic example of this is the mother who is attempting to manage the vocal child in the grocery store who wants candy at the checkout stand. He begs and begs, hearing, “no, no, no…well….okay, I guess so.” Children of permissive feeders may become overweight, as research shows that the limits on calorie-dense foods may be unlimited.

Neglectful feeding style often produces the unprepared parent: irregular shopping, empty cabinets and refrigerators, and no plan for meals. Food and eating may lack importance for the parent, and that may transcend to feeding their child. Children who experience this feeding style may feel insecure about food and eating, and unsure about when they will have their next meal, whether they will like it, and if it will be enough. These children may become overly focused on food and frequently question the details around mealtime.


Authoritative feeding style is the “love with limits” feeding style, promoting independent thinking and self-regulation within the child, but also setting boundaries around food and eating. The authoritative feeder determines the details around the meal (what will be served, when it will happen, and where it will be served), but allows the child to decide whether they will eat what is prepared, and how much they will eat. Trust and boundaries are the basis of this parent feeding style. Children who have authoritative parents in the home tend to be leaner, good at self-regulating their food consumption, and feel secure with food and eating. The most current research advocates this style of feeding as an effective childhood obesity prevention approach.


What’s your feeding style and how is it affecting your child’s eating and health?