To explore parents' perceptions of the eating behaviors and related feeding practices of their young children. Mothers (N = 740) of children aged 12-36 months and born in South Australia were randomly selected by birth date in four 6-month age bands from a centralized statewide database and invited to complete a postal questionnaire. Valid completed questionnaires were returned for 374 children (51% response rate; 54% female). Although mothers generally reported being confident and happy in feeding their children, 23% often worried that they gave their child the right amount of food. Based on a checklist of 36 specified items, 15% of children consumed no vegetables in the previous 24 h, 11% no fruit and for a further 8% juice was the only fruit. Of 12 specified high fat/sugar foods and drinks, 11% of children consumed none, 20% one, 26% two, and 43% three or more. Six of eight child-feeding practices that promote healthy eating behaviors were undertaken by 75% parents 'often' or 'all of the time'. However, 8 of 11 practices that do not promote healthy eating were undertaken by a third of mothers at least 'sometimes'. In this representative sample, dietary quality issues emerge early and inappropriate feeding practices are prevalent thus identifying the need for very early interventions that promote healthy food preferences and positive feeding practices. Such programs should focus not just on the 'what', but also the 'how' of early feeding, including the feeding relationship and processes appropriate to developmental stage.
- Maternal feeding practices