Objective: Conceptual understanding of how management of food and eating is linked to life course events and experiences.
Design/setting: Individual qualitative interviews with adults in upstate New York.
Participants: Fourteen men and 11 women with moderate to low incomes. PHENOMENON: Food choice capacity.
Analysis: Constant comparative method.
Results: A conceptual model of food choice capacity emerged. Food choice capacity represented participants' confidence in meeting their standards for food and eating given their food management skills and circumstances. Standards (expectations for how participants felt they should eat) were based on life course events and experiences. Food management skills (mental and physical talents to keep food costs down and prepare meals) were sources of self-esteem for many participants. Most participants had faced challenging and changing circumstances (income, employment, social support, roles, health conditions). Participants linked strong food management skills with high levels of food choice capacity, except in the case of extreme financial circumstances or the absence of strong standards.
Implications for research and practice: Recognizing people's experiences and perspectives in food choice is important. Characterizing food management skills as durable, adaptive resources positions them conceptually for researchers and in a way that practitioners can apply in developing programs for adults.