How parents describe picky eating and its impact on family meals: A qualitative analysis

Amanda C Trofholz, Anna K. Schulte, Jerica M. Berge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Children are frequently described as being picky eaters. However, this term has been inconsistently defined in prior research. There is limited qualitative research investigating how parent's define picky eating, how they respond to it, or how they see picky eating impacting their child's dietary intake or the family meal. For this study, parents (n = 88) of siblings (ages 2–18 years old) were interviewed in their homes. The semi-structured interviews focused on parent feeding practices and child eating behaviors. A qualitative content analysis approach was used to analyze the data; themes regarding picky eating emerged. Results of this study show that the majority of parents (94% female; mean age 35 years) were from minority and low income homes. The following themes regarding picky eating were identified: 1) children were frequently described as being picky eaters; 2) parents defined picky eating in a variety of ways (i.e., not liking a few foods; limited intake; resisting texture or appearance of foods; resistance to new foods); 3) picky eating impacted the family meal (i.e., promotes meal-related parent stress; impacts meal preparation); and 4) parents responded to picky eating in a variety of ways (i.e., require child tries food; allow child to make separate meal; allow child not to eat; parent makes a separate meal; allows child to choose only food he/she likes; requires child to eat anyway). This study demonstrates that many parents experience child picky eating and report that it impacts family meals. Additionally, study results provide information on the specific ways pickiness impacts the family meal and how parents respond to pickiness. This study also provides guidance for future studies wishing to define picky eating or evaluate the prevalence of child pickiness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-43
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research is supported by grant number R56HL116403 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and by grant number R21DK091619 from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disease . Content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disease or the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Child eating behavior
  • Family meals
  • Neophobia
  • Parent feeding practices
  • Picky eating


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