‘It’s not worth the fight’: Fathers’ perceptions of family mealtime interactions, feeding practices and child eating behaviours.
Fathers’ perceptions of feeding children are rarely considered in the literature, yet there is growing recognition of their unique contribution to the family feeding environment. This study aimed to explore fathers’ perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and lived experiences of mealtime interactions with children and other family members. Fathers (N = 27) of children aged ≤12 years old were recruited from occupationally diverse workplaces and participated in six focus groups on-site at the fathers’ workplaces. Using grounded theory, we show that fathers’ connection to children at mealtimes influenced how they perceived and responded to child eating behaviours. Three major themes were identified in fathers’ experiences of mealtime interactions: (i) valuing connection and communication; (ii) expectations and perceptions of child eating behaviours, and (iii) feeding practices used in an attempt to align their mealtime expectations to reality. Fathers’ connections were informed by their mealtime goals, historical feeding interactions with their child and intergenerational transmission of cultural values. These values were communicated between father and child through verbal (e.g. conversations) and structural (e.g. being present at meals) cues. Fathers described challenging child behaviours that disrupted mealtime connections, such as food refusal or the use of digital devices. Awareness of child food preferences, distractors, time, personal or child mood, and guilt triggered fathers’ adjustment of their feeding practices, often in an effort to avoid mealtime conflict. Fathers tended to describe their feeding practices within the context of mothers’ feeding practices and mealtime participation. The values that underpin fathers’ connection to family mealtimes can be leveraged to inform culturally-appropriate interventions that facilitate positive, shared family meals to support child health and development.Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Ltd.