What’s your feeding style?

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Did you know that your feeding style may have a long term effect on your children’s health and wellbeing?

Each parent falls under a certain feeding style. Researchers suggest that parenting styles and actions are closely related to feeding styles within a home. This style may be due to cultural beliefs or upbringing and may differ even between partners.

Pablo Merchan Montes

Why is it important to know your feeding style?

Early childhood is a pivotal developmental stage for healthy habits. Research has shown that our parental feeding style may have an effect on our children’s relationship with food; and this may further influence their food choices in future. And if not done correctly, may lead to an increased risk of childhood obesity and potentially, adult obesity.

Types of parental feeding styles

Parental feeding styles have been classified into four different categories: Authoritarian, indulgent/permissive, neglectful/uninvolved and authoritative. This classification is based on the level of responsiveness or support, and control/demand of the parents.


Authoritarian: The authoritarian style of feeding is also called a strict form of feeding. This style of feeding is demanding but not responsive. These parents do not give room for a lot of dialogue, therefore ignoring the child’s preferences completely. Here a parent might make comments like, “four more spoons and the food is finished”, or “you have to clean up your plate before I am done eating”. These parents may also restrict the child’s access to any unhealthy foods.

A major problem with this style of feeding is that, the child is taught to finish up whatever is on their plate regardless of the signals of satiety (feeling of fullness). Our body produces hormones such as ghrelin when we are hungry and cholecystokinin (CKK) when we have reached satiety. The hypothalamus is also the center of regulation of hunger. These should serve as cues to let us know when to eat and when to stop; and if ignored may lead to a lack of self-discipline around food. Also, restricting certain foods will only increase a child’s craving for those foods. In your absence, such kids will indulge in those meals to an unhealthy amount; as they never know when they will get the chance again.

Permissive: This is the complete opposite of the “authoritarian style”. In this style, there is little to no rules. There is room for communication. However, these parents allow their children to make decisions without giving even minimal guidance. They are low demanding and highly responsive. These children can help themselves with whatever they want, whenever they want. The disadvantages to this style of feeding are numerous. We live in a world where a set of guidelines are necessary to navigate through life. Having a time frame when kids can eat is important. They should have a set number of meals each day, just to be able to form a habit and some self-discipline. Allowing kids to have whatever they want, when they want to; causes a lack of regulation and intake of unhealthy meals, leading to unnecessary weight gain. It is important in a child’s development for there to be clear cut parental and child roles. Permissive parenting can have long-term damaging effects. A study published in the scientific Journal of Early Adolescence showed that teenagers with permissive parents are three times more likely to engage in heavy underage alcohol consumption. Read more here

Neglectful/uninvolved style: In this style, there is no priority given to feeding at all. This parenting style is dormant. They give no priority to shopping or cooking. They expect the children to raise themselves. Such parents may have a lack of interest in food due to a past experience. They may have also been raised by uninvolved or neglectful parents, or may be so busy with life that a hands-off approach is what they deem easier. They rarely set rules and do not offer guidance or expectations for behavior.

When a child is not sure about when the next meal will be available, they develop an unhealthy relationship with food. They become more focused on food and tend to overeat. Children who experience this feeding style may feel insecure about food, and unsure about when they will have their next meal. The complete lack of boundaries in the home makes it difficult to learn appropriate behaviors. A research study showed that a neglectful feeding style may be a risk factor for higher BMI in preschoolers who tend to overeat to cope with negative emotions.

Authoritative style: The “love with limits” feeding style. The authoritative feeding style has been found to be associated with more positive outcomes. Authoritative parents are responsive, accepting, and child-centered, while also setting clear boundaries for their children. So even though children are given limits, their preferences are also taken into consideration. These parents may ask a child what fruits they would like to take to school. In this way, the child picks something that they like and will eat; however, the parent is in control of the choices. For example “would you like apples or pears in your lunch box?”

According to experts, parents who offer this type of supportive environment and respect their children’s wishes are better able to help their children make healthy decisions when it comes to food. These children are associated with a lower body weight. Read more here. Children raised this way around food and eating are good at self-regulating their food consumption, and feel secure with food and eating. The most current research advocates this style of parenting/feeding as an effective childhood obesity prevention approach.

So what is your feeding style?


Featured image:

Dr Cheryl S-John

The author Dr Cheryl S-John

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