Associations between father availability, mealtime distractions and routines, and maternal feeding responsiveness: An observational study

Jaclyn A. Saltzman, Salma Musaad, Kelly K. Bost, Brent A. McBride, Barbara H. Fiese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Responsive feeding and frequency of family mealtimes are related to healthier eating behaviors and weight outcomes in children and adolescents. Distractions at mealtimes are related to greater intake of unhealthy food and a less positive mealtime emotional climate. However, there is little understanding of the effects of routines and father availability on distractions at family meals, and there is limited research investigating the effects of distractions among all family members on maternal feeding practices in toddlerhood. This study aims to characterize distractions at family mealtimes and examine associations between father availability, distractions, and observed responsive feeding. Descriptive analyses, nonlinear mixed models, and path analyses were conducted using observational (home-based family mealtimes) and self-report data collected from a subsample of families (n = 109) of 18- to 24-month-old children in the larger STRONG Kids 2 Study (N = 468). Between fathers, mothers, and children, families spent almost half of the mealtime distracted. Fathers and mothers engaged in about equal amounts of distractions, and children engaged in more technology-related distractions than parents. Fathers' absence at the mealtime was associated with more child distractions and less maternal feeding responsiveness. Lower paternal total distractions, maternal non-technology-object-related distractions, and higher household income were significantly associated with more observed maternal feeding responsiveness. Future research should investigate how father availability and family mealtime distractions may be associated directly and indirectly with children's eating behaviors and weight outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-475
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Distractions
  • Family systems
  • Mealtime
  • Observational study
  • Responsiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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