BACKGROUND: Weaning marks the transition from a milk-only diet to the consumption of solid foods. It is a time period where nutrition holds an undeniable importance and taste experiences have a long-lasting effect on food preferences. The factors and conditions that form parental feeding practices are yet to be fully understood; doing so can help target problematic behaviours and develop interventions aiming to modify them.
OBJECTIVE: This study used a qualitative methodology to gain a better understanding of parental experiences of weaning a child. Particular emphasis was placed on exploring the factors and conditions that favour the establishment of a healthy relationship with food in infancy and those that impede it.
METHODS: Thirty-seven mothers of healthy infants 3⁻14 months with no previous history of allergies or food-related disorders were recruited. Eight semi-structured focus group discussions were conducted, transcribed and analysed thematically.
RESULTS: Discussions revealed a number of opportunities to establish healthy eating habits during weaning, as well as relevant challenges. Important opportunities included: acting as a role model for healthy foods; giving multiple opportunities to try a food; food variety "so you don't have a fussy eater"; and without food variety "things aren't going to work properly". Additionally, some of the challenges identified were: misconceptions about the definition of food variety; and distractions occurring during feeding.
CONCLUSIONS: Mothers were mindful of the need to provide their children with appropriate nutritional stimuli during weaning. They were aware of their role in influencing their infants' likes and used strategies such as modelling and repeated food exposure. The importance of a diverse diet in infancy was acknowledged, although knowledge gaps exist in relation to its definition. Distractions were tactfully employed by mothers to assist feeding. Findings of this study have applications in developing interventions for nutritional education in the complementary feeding period.