Food parenting and child snacking: a systematic review

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017 Nov 3;14(1):146. doi: 10.1186/s12966-017-0593-9.


Background: While the role of parenting in children's eating behaviors has been studied extensively, less attention has been given to its potential association with children's snacking habits. To address this gap, we conducted a systematic review to describe associations between food parenting and child snacking, or consuming energy dense foods/foods in between meals.

Methods: Six electronic databases were searched using standardized language to identify quantitative studies describing associations of general and feeding-specific parenting styles as well as food parenting practices with snacking behaviors of children aged 2-18 years. Eligible peer-reviewed journal articles published between 1980 and 2017 were included. Data were extracted using a standard protocol by three coders; all items were double coded to ensure consistency.

Results: Forty-seven studies met inclusion criteria. Few studies focused on general feeding (n = 3) or parenting styles (n = 10). Most studies focused on controlling food parenting practices (n = 39) that were not specific to snacking. Parental restriction of food was positively associated with child snack intake in 13/23 studies, while pressure to eat and monitoring yielded inconsistent results. Home availability of unhealthy foods was positively associated with snack intake in 10/11 studies. Findings related to positive parent behaviors (e.g. role modeling) were limited and yielded mixed results (n = 9). Snacking was often assessed using food frequency items and defined post-hoc based on nutritional characteristics (e.g. energy-dense, sugary foods, unhealthy, etc.). Timing was rarely included in the definition of a snack (i.e. chips eaten between meals vs. with lunch).

Conclusions: Restrictive feeding and home access to unhealthy foods were most consistently associated with snacking among young children. Research is needed to identify positive parenting behaviors around child snacking that may be used as targets for health promotion. Detailed definitions of snacking that address food type, context, and purpose are needed to advance findings within the field. We provide suggested standardized terminology for future research.

Keywords: Feeding; Food parenting; Snacks.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet / psychology*
  • Food Preferences / psychology
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Snacks / psychology*