Deeply involved parenting means better meals for preschoolers

Portrait photo of Power in blue shirt in front of foliage.
Tom Power, emeritus professor in Human Development, has researched healthy behaviors and parent-child relationships for more than 15 years.

Parents’ attitudes at the dinner table affect the quality of meals for their young children, according to new research by a nationwide team of scientists including Thomas Power, emeritus professor in the Department of Human Development.

Their discoveries were featured this fall in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in a new paper by lead author Katherine Arlinghaus, doctoral student at the University of Houston.

Researchers studied the relationship between parents’ feeding styles and the dietary quality of dinner meals served to preschoolers in Head Start.

Parents filled out a questionnaire on their level of responsiveness at mealtime, and how often they provide their children with guidance about what and how much they should eat during meals. Researchers also documented the type and amount of food served and eaten by their children using digital photos.

Scientists found that children received the highest dietary quality from parents who are both highly responsive, and rigorous about providing guidance to their children at mealtime. They see a need for efforts that promote these types of mealtime practices to boost diet quality for preschool children.

This work is part of a series of studies that Dr. Power has conducted in collaboration with Sheryl Hughes, associate professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, over the last 15 years.

“This research supports a growing number of studies showing the benefits of directive, responsive feeding practices in the prevention of childhood obesity,” Power said. “Research shows that parents who are involved and attentive at dinner, but also support their child’s developing autonomy, can help their children get more nutrition and grow up healthier.”

A researcher, teacher and former chair of Human Development, Power studies parent-child relationships and the development of healthy behaviors in young children.

Read more about the journal article, “Authoritative parent feeding style is associated with better child dietary quality at dinner among low-income minority families,” here.