Learning to Eat: Behavioral and Psychological Aspects

Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2016;85:125-34. doi: 10.1159/000439503. Epub 2016 Apr 18.


Because infants are totally dependent upon parents (or other caregivers) for care and sustenance, parents' feeding practices are a key feature of the family environments in which infants and young children learn about food and eating. Feeding practices include not only what the child is fed, but also the how, when, why and how much of feeding. Extensive evidence indicates that parenting behavior influences a variety of child outcomes, including cognitive and socioemotional development, as well as the development of self-regulatory skills. The focus of this chapter is on what is known about how parenting, particularly feeding practices, influences the early development of several aspects of children's eating behavior, including the acquisition of food preferences, self-regulatory skills, children's reactivity to food cues, satiety responsiveness and 'picky eating'. It is argued that traditional feeding practices, which evolved to protect children from environmental threats and ensure adequate intake in the context of food scarcity, can be maladaptive in current environments. An evidence base is needed to inform public policy to reduce early obesity risk in current environments, where too much palatable food is a major threat to child health. Results of recent research provides evidence that promoting responsive feeding practices can alter the development of eating behavior, sleep patterns and early self-regulatory skills, as well as reduce early obesity risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Behavior
  • Child Development*
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet, Healthy
  • Eating*
  • Energy Intake
  • Family
  • Family Relations
  • Feeding Methods* / adverse effects
  • Food Preferences
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity / etiology
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Risk
  • Social Learning*