Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Ecology

Major Professor

Jean D. Skinner

Committee Members

Betty Ruth Carruth, James Moran III, Thomas C. Hood


In this study a theory of how mothers make decisions about feeding their young children aged 3 to 5 years was developed using the grounded theory technique. In-depth interviews were conducted with 50 married mothers of children aged 3 to 5 to determine their mealtime practices and feelings about mealtimes. Interviews were audio taped and transcribed verbatim. Transcribed interviews were analyzed using the grounded theory technique to build a theory from the data (interviews).

Analyses of mothers’ interviews indicated that mothers in this study formed expectations for 5 distinct stages of feeding decisions based on their experiences. The five stages were food planning, food acquisition, timing of eating, food preparation, and food consumption. Mothers approached feeding decisions at any stage with preconceived notions about how the decision should be made. At the time of the decision, mothers made specific assessments within the context of that decision to form perceptions about what their child needed and what barriers existed to implementing their expectations for the situation. If the mothers’ perceptions were compatible with the expectations they held for that decision, mothers implemented their expectations. If their perceptions were not compatible with their expectations for the situation, mothers employed strategies to manage the differences between perceptions and expectations. The strategies they employed were maintaining expectations, modifying or abandoning expectations, compromising expectations, or planning to control the barriers to meeting their expectations.

The following document describes the theory that was developed from this research. It is divided into parts as follows. Part 1 contains a review of literature regarding meal patterns and child-feeding practices. Parts 2-4 describe the theory that was developed using grounded theory analysis on the interviews with mothers. Part 2 describes the causal and contextual conditions in mothers’ child-feeding decisions. Part 3 describes the intervening condition of expectations that mothers formed from experience and brought with them into the feeding decisions they faced. Part 4 describes the overall theory and its development, focusing on the action/interaction strategies mothers used in child-feeding decisions. Finally, Part 5 provides a detailed description of the methodology used for this study.

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