Objectives: One means through which children learn eating behaviours is the feeding strategies used by parents. Although research has studied the effects of parental feeding strategies on consumption, choice, and liking, little is known about the goals parents themselves seek. The study aimed to explore the feeding goals sought by parents of preschool children.
Design: An exploratory qualitative study using in-depth, semi-structured interviews was undertaken. Data were analysed using thematic and interpretative techniques.
Methods: A snowballing sample of 12 mothers of children aged 3-5 years was used. Mothers were asked to recall and talk through their feeding experiences with this child. Probe questions were used to explore the reasoning behind the actions described. Data were transcribed and subjected to concurrent coding and interpretation.
Results: Mothers spontaneously classified their child as a 'good' or a 'bad' eater. Consumption emerged as the dominant feeding goal. For 'bad' eaters, a short-term goal of consuming any food, rather than no food, was adopted. For 'good' eaters, a long-term goal of consuming a varied, well-balanced diet was favoured. Liking as a feeding goal was not mentioned.
Conclusions: Although the literature suggests that liking is the most appropriate feeding goal for the establishment of long-term healthy eating behaviours, parents do not knowingly, repeatedly and consistently target food likes as a direct outcome of their feeding strategies. Interventions that focus on 'how' parents feed their children, as well as 'what', are recommended.