How Your Parenting Style Impacts Meal Time

A question I am often asked is “How do I get my partner/spouse/significant other on board with the Division of Responsibility?

Part of being a team and raising children together is being on the same page – and for that we have to start by addressing our “Parenting Styles“.

Research actually shows that the way we parent impacts meal times and our children’s life long relationship with food!

If you are wanting to get on the same page as your partner, the best place to start is by discussing your parenting style(s) – looking for reasonable compromises and maybe even deciding to change it up.

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There are four main established “Parenting Styles

  • Authoritarian Parenting
  • Permissive Parenting
  • Authoritative Parenting
  • Uninvolved/ Neglectful Parenting (if you are reading this I am already pretty sure you wouldn’t fall into this one! But this is important for Foster & Adoptive Families)

**It is important while you read through these that your remember – it is normal for parents & caregivers to change “styles” based on situations and that you probably will relate to more than one of these.

Authoritarian Parenting

The “Because I said so” line is what pops into my head when I first think of authoritarian parenting. They are often veiwed as the strict disciplinarian and punishment is common. Communication is mostly one way: from parent to child. Rules usually are not explained but expected to be followed. Adutls with this style are typically less warm and nurturing but expectations are high with limited flexibility.

How that plays in feeding:

While these caregivers do hold firm boundaries, they also utilize tactics such as bribing and forcing to make childlren eat which diminishes a child’s ability to listen to their bodies internal hunger/fullness cues and teaches a habit of “eating for external approval” which can create a habit of overeating. Think “One Bite Rule”, “Having to Earn Dessert”, and “Clean Your Plate” are all common pharses of authoritarian caregivers. This method of restricting and using foods as a bribe also increases a child’s chance of obessing with this food and over-indulging when given the chance to eat it.

Research shows that with children this leads to:
  • Diminished ability to recognize hunger-satiety cues
  • Children eat less variety
  • They are more likely to be overweight or underweight
  • Eat more of/Over-indulge in restricted foods when having access to them
  • Show decreased enjoyment of food & meal times
  • Increased pickiness and more battles at meal times
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Permissive Parenting

These are more of the “Kids will be kids” adults. Permissive parents (or Indulgent parents) mostly allow their children do what they want, and offer limited guidance or direction. They are more like friends than parents. Caregivers in this category tend to be warm and nurturing but have no clear boundaries and often do not follow up with consequences.

How that plays in feeding:

These adults are often the “Well, I will just make you something else” type when it comes to feeding. They give their child exactly what they want to eat and this prevents children from being exposed to new foods and keeps them in the cycle of picky eating. These are also often the group who have “all day snackers/grazers”. This lack of routine prevents children from having time to build up an age appropriate appetite for meals and also contributes to them not learning to like new foods.

Research shows that with children this leads to:

  • Diminished ability to recognize hunger-satiety cues
  • Child eats very limited variety
  • They are more likely to be overweight or underweight
  • Child dictates meals
  • No room for learning new foods
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Authoritative Parenting

Then we have the “Let’s talk about it” adults. These caregivers are reasonable and nurturing, but set clear expectations & boundaries. Authoritative parents have rules and they use consequences, but they also take their children’s opinions into account. They validate their children’s emotions, while also making it clear that the adults are ultimately in charge. 

How that plays in feeding:

These adults are often the “One meal for the whole family” type. They take their child’s indiviudal learning into consideration while making meals but also hold boundaries around meals such as, everyone has to come to the table (at least for a period of time). This provided structure and routine along side at least one familiar/safe food per eating opportunity allows for children to have the space to learn to like new foods while also eating enough variety to meet their nutritional needs & growth.

Research shows that with children this leads to:

  • Child is more likely to self-regulate food intake
  • Eats a wider variety of foods
  • Reduces obession & food guilt
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Uninvolved/ Neglectful Parenting

This would, so sadly, be the “You’re on your own” type. While we all aim to eventually raise children who become competent adults, it can NOT be expected that children be without a caretaker and this style is pretty much that. As I noted before, this is not a Parenting Style that I feel many individuals reading this will fall into.  These “caregivers” don’t devote time or energy into meeting their child’s basic needs. 

How that plays in feeding:

While I am fairly sure that parents who fall into this category wouldn’t even take the time to read this, I KNOW that there are many foster care families and adoptive families who are feeding children who (heartbreakingly) previously experienced this form of “parenting”.

Children who come to a home, through foster care or adoption, past infancy have had time to become accustomed to a way of eating that is often very different and far from ideal. Perhaps they were neglected, and food was scarce. Maybe they lived in a food desert, and pre-packaged processed food was all that was readily available. Perhaps they were in a home where the last thing on anyone’s mind was feeding the kids. Maybe all of these. Each of these is heart breaking to even think about but for some children this is reality.

Research shows that with children this leads to:

  • Emotional insecurity in children
  • Obsession with food
  • Food hiding & guilt

It’s incredible that you want to accommodate this child while making him or her feel part of the family! There is likely to be a transition period as this child learns to feel more comfortable and has opportunities to learn about the foods you eat. Assume that children (even children in bigger bodies) in foster care have experienced food insecurity, meaning that they didn’t have reliable access to enough food. This contributes to anxiety around food and makes them more likely to rely on familiar foods. There may also be sensory challenges that make certain textures more difficult and emotional associations with different foods.

In these homes, helping these children to feel secure, seen, and validated has to come first. From there we can work on expanding their list of accepted foods but if this is your current situation, be patient. You can also talk to your pediatrican about seeing a Feeding Therapist to help your child learn to work through anxiety, texture issues, and many other intricacies that fostering and adoption can bring to the table (both metaphorically and literally).

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Discussing Parenting Styles with Your Partner

I want to make a point to stress that this should be a DISCUSSION. Both sides need to listen as much as they speak! After all, you both have the same goal- to raise happy & healthy kids! But the only way you can be on the same page is by talking about it.

Finding that common ground is important. So make a point to listen to what they have to say and their feelings around feeding. Often, our family history and the way we grew up eating impacts how we view feeding as an adult.

Listening will give you a chance to hear what is stressing your partner and allow you both to look for compromises. You need to be each other’s ally at meal times and be willing to support each others decisions.

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For example, if your partner isn’t quite ready for serving foods neutrally (aka serving dessert with meals) then a fair compromise might be deciding to stop the “authoritarian habit” of having “requirements to earn dessert” and simply allow everyone to enjoy dessert together after meals. Being a team might mean working on a “play book” together that works for your family- and that’s totally okay!

Sometimes, even personally, our style doesn’t really fit into just one category. Honestly, I aim for authoritative but I catch myself slipping into permissive parenting (especially when I’m anxious, overwhelmed, or exhausted) so try not to be super hard on yourself or your partner. Even if you feel you or your partner identify with other parenting styles more, there are steps you can take to become a more authoritative parent and team!

The research is clear that authoritative parenting is the best parenting style long term for raising happy & healthy adults and for raising competent eaters. Authoritative parenting puts YOU in charge, but also provides age appropriate boundaries for your children so that they can foster independence.

You can maintain a positive relationship with your child while still establishing your authority in a healthy manner and over time, your child will reap the benefits of your authoritative style in both feeding and in general life!

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References:

**The author of this site encourages you to consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. No information on this site should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. For more information please read our full disclaimer here.**

Published by snackswithjax

Sarah is the creator and mom behind "Snacks with Jax", a social media community of over 85,000 parents/caregivers, where she shares her son's meals, nutrition information, and evidence-based tips for feeding children. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist with a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition emphasizing in Wellness from Texas Woman's University and years of experience as a culinary instructor working with ages 2+. She has coached hundreds of parents & caregivers through the journey introducing solids to babies and also navigating picky eating with toddlers and older children. Her focus is on establishing a life-long healthy relationship with food for children while also empowering, encouraging, and educating their adult caregivers.

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