An observational analysis of parents’ socialization of children’s eating at mealtime.

Orrell-Valente, J. K., Hill, L. G., Brechwald, W. A., Dodge, K. A., Bates, J. E., & Pettit, G. S. (2007). “Just three more bites”: An observational analysis of parents’ socialization of children’s eating at mealtime. Appetite, 48, 37-45.



The objective of this study was to describe comprehensively the structure and process of the childhood mealtime environment. A socioeconomically diverse sample of 142 families of kindergarteners (52% females) was observed at dinnertime using a focused-narrative observational system. Eighty-five percent of parents tried to get children to eat more, 83% of children ate more than they might otherwise have, with 38% eating moderately to substantially more. Boys were prompted to eat as often as girls and children were prompted to eat as many times in single- as in two-parent households. Children were very rarely restricted in their mealtime intake. High-SES parents used reasoning, praise, and food rewards significantly more often than low-SES families. Mothers used different strategies than fathers: fathers used pressure tactics with boys and mothers praised girls for eating. Future research should examine the meanings children ascribe to their parents' communications about food intake and how perceived parental messages influence the development of long-term dietary patterns. Interpreted alongside the evidence for children's energy self-regulation and the risk of disruption of these innate processes, it may be that parents are inadvertently socializing their children to eat past their internal hunger/satiety cues. These data reinforce current recommendations that parents should provide nutritious foods and children, not parents, should decide what and how much of these foods they eat.