Dads in the kitchen: supporting fathers to provide healthy food choices for families

Fathers play a crucial role in shaping the food choices and eating habits of their children within the household. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked in research and initiatives aimed at promoting healthier diets among kids.

As an increasing number of women enter the workforce, it becomes more important that the responsibility for providing nutritious family meals is shared between parents.

A study conducted by researchers from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), Deakin University, set out to explore the extent of fathers’ involvement in meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking for the family, the factors influencing their participation, and the resources they found useful.

Fathers living in Australia with at least one child under the age of 5 were invited to complete a survey. More than 430 fathers participated in December 2020, when various COVID-19 related restrictions were in place.

The majority of the surveyed fathers were in committed relationships, primarily spoke English at home, worked full-time, and had 1-2 children. About 28% of the fathers lived in areas with a high level of disadvantage.

The survey revealed that three out of four fathers shared at least half of the family food responsibilities. Interestingly, for 75% of the fathers, the COVID-19 restrictions did not alter their level of family food responsibilities, while 21% reported an increase in their responsibilities. Moreover, a significant portion (70-80%) of fathers were satisfied with their current level of family food responsibilities.

Lead author, Dr Konsita Kuswara said fathers in the study had significant roles in shopping and cooking, but were somewhat less involved in meal planning.

She said many fathers took health into consideration when preparing and planning meals, although few used nutrition labels or experimented with new recipes or adaptations to make their meals healthier.

“Overall, fathers were motivated and confident in producing the types of meals they wanted to provide,” Dr Kuswara said.

“Being motivated and confident corresponded with higher levels of involvement in family food-related tasks.

“However, the perception of limited time due to work commitments hindered greater involvement and dampened their motivation and confidence, especially in meal planning and preparation,” she said.

Dr Kuswara said while the study did not represent all Australian fathers, it did show that many fathers with young children in Australia are actively engaged in providing healthy foods within their families.

“This study shows us that it’s crucial to include fathers in initiatives aimed at supporting nutritious food choices at home,” she said.

“For example, fathers told us they are interested in resources that save time, such as quick and healthy meal ideas, shopping guides, and cooking lessons.”

Dr Kuswara said promoting a wider adoption of paternity leave and advocating for flexible work arrangements for fathers could help alleviate some of the time constraints, allowing them to play a more active role in providing healthy meals at home.

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Reference: Kuswara, K., Vidgen, H., Love, P., Laws, R., & Campbell, K. (2023). The contribution of Australian fathers in getting food on the table among families with young children. Public Health Nutrition, 1-25. doi:10.1017/S1368980023001817