The importance of mealtime structure for reducing child food fussiness

The aim of this study was to explore how the structure of mealtimes within the family setting is related to children’s fussy eating behaviours. Seventy-five mothers of children aged between 2 and 4 years were observed during a typical mealtime at home. The mealtimes were coded to rate mealtime structure and environment as well as the child’s eating behaviours (food refusal, difficulty to feed, eating speed, positive and negative vocalisations). Mealtime structure emerged as an important factor which significantly distinguished children with higher compared to lower levels of food fussiness. Children whose mothers ate with their child and ate the same food as their child were observed to refuse fewer foods and were easier to feed compared to children whose mothers did not. During mealtimes where no distractors were used (e.g., no TV, magazines or toys), or where children were allowed some input into food choice and portioning, children were also observed to demonstrate fewer fussy eating behaviours. Findings of this study suggest that structured mealtimes, where the family eats together and distractions are minimal, alongside allowing the child autonomy in food choice and intake, may help to promote more adaptive and healthy eating behaviours in young children.