Strategies Low-Income Parents Use to Overcome Their Children’s Food Refusal


Introduction Parents play a key role in the development of eating habits in preschool children, as they are the food “gatekeepers.” Repeated exposure to new foods can improve child food preferences and consumption. The objective of this study was to determine parent feeding strategies used to influence child acceptance of previously rejected foods (PRF). Methods We conducted eighteen focus groups (total participants = 111) with low-income African American and Hispanic parents of preschool children (3- to 5-year-olds) in Texas, Colorado, and Washington. Through thematic analysis, we coded transcripts and analyzed coded quotes to develop dominant emergent themes related to strategies used to overcome children’s food refusal. Results We found three major themes in the data: parents most often do not serve PRF; parents value their child eating over liking a food; and parents rarely use the same feeding strategy more than once for a PRF. Desiring to reduce waste and save time, parents said they most often intentionally decided not to purchase or serve PRF to their children. Discussion Because parents’ primary goal in child feeding is getting children to eat (over acceptance of a variety of foods), strategies to help parents promote consumption of less easily accepted foods could help parents with child feeding struggles and improve children’s dietary quality.

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We would like to thank Rebecca Smotherman,, for her technical assistance in the preparation of this manuscript. The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This research was supported by funds from the United States Department of Agriculture, Grant No. 2011-68001-30009. This work is a publication of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA/ARS) Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, and has been funded in part with federal funds from the USDA/ARS under Cooperative Agreement No. 58-6250-0-008. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the USDA, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement from the US government.

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Correspondence to L. Suzanne Goodell.

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Goodell, L.S., Johnson, S.L., Antono, A.C. et al. Strategies Low-Income Parents Use to Overcome Their Children’s Food Refusal. Matern Child Health J 21, 68–76 (2017).

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  • Qualitative
  • Child food preference
  • Feeding behavior
  • Parent child