“Doing our best to keep a routine:” How low-income mothers manage child feeding with unpredictable work and family schedules
Abstract Significant changes in work and family conditions over the last three decades have important implications for understanding how young children are fed. The new conditions of work and family have placed pressures on families. The aim of this study was to explore the work and family pressures shaping the ways parents feed their young children on a day-to-day basis. Twenty-two purposively recruited low-income employed mothers of 3–4 year old children from a rural county Head Start program in Upstate New York reported details about the context of their children's eating episodes in a 24-h qualitative dietary recall. Participating mothers were employed and/or in school at least 20 h a week and varied in partner and household characteristics. Interview transcripts were open coded using the constant comparative method for usual ways of feeding children. A typology of three emergent child feeding routines was identified based on mothers' accounts of the recurring ways they fed their child. Mothers' feeding routines were distinguished by a combination of four recurring key strategies – planning ahead, delegating, making trade-offs, and coordinating. Work schedule predictability and other adults helped mothers maintain feeding routines. Unexpected daily events, such as working overtime or waking up late, disrupted child feeding routines and required modifications. These findings suggest that understanding how young children are fed requires recognizing the socio-ecological environments that involve working mothers' daily schedules and household conditions and the multiple ways that mothers manage food and feeding to fit environmental constraints. There is a need to look at more than just family meals to understand parents' daily strategies for feeding young children and their implications for child nutrition.
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