This study aimed to evaluate the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on food parenting practices used by parents of young children. Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) was used to evaluate parents' use of coercive, indulgent, structured, and autonomy supportive food parenting practices before and during the COVID-19 pandemic among a diverse racial/ethnic sample (n = 72) of parents of preschool-aged children. The impact of parent and child mood/behavior on use of specific food parenting practices was also evaluated during both time periods. Results revealed that most parents of preschoolers use a variety of food parenting practices, including coercive control, indulgence, structure, and autonomy support practices. The use of structured and autonomy supportive practices, however, decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, the types of practices used by parents were contextually associated with the mood of the parent as well as child mood. Parent negative mood during COVID-19 was associated with higher levels of coercive control and indulgence and lower levels of structure, whereas child positive child mood was associated with greater use of autonomy supportive practices. These findings suggest that effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on family dynamics around feeding young children include shifts away from theoretically supportive approaches to parenting and highlight the roles of parent and child mood/behavior as potentially important momentary influences on food parenting during this time. Public health practitioners and clinicians working with parents of young children during COVID-19, and in years to come, should consider the potential impact of parental mood and stress, as well as child mood and behaviors. Additional research is needed to better understand how to best help parents maintain supportive feeding practices in the face of challenging situations.
Keywords: Behavior; COVID-19; Ecological momentary assessment; Food-related parenting practices; Mood; Stress.
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