Background: Evidence on child feeding practice is often based on the perspectives and experiences of parents and less that of health practitioners. In this study, we explored child feeding practice in Aboriginal communities in northern Australia from both the parents and health practitioners’ perspectives with the aim of informing nutrition improvement programs.
Methods: Qualitative research methods were employed. Using semi-structured interviews, parents (n = 30) of children aged 2–5 years, and 29 service providers who were involved in the delivery of child health and nutrition programs in the same communities, were asked about child feeding attitudes and practices. Responses were analyzed through inductive and deductive analysis, recognizing that worldviews influence child feeding practices.
Results: Sharing food was a central practice within families. Parents highly valued development of child independence in food behavior but were conflicted with the easy access to unhealthy food in their communities. This easy access to unhealthy food and inadequate food storage and kitchen facilities for some families were major challenges to achieving optimal diets for children identified by Aboriginal families and service providers. The responsive style of parenting described by parents was often misunderstood by service providers as sub-optimal parenting when viewed through a dominant western lens.
Conclusions: Approaches to support healthy feeding practices and optimal child nutrition require health-enabling food environments. Along with a community-based Aboriginal health workforce, it is paramount that the non-Aboriginal workforce be supported to be reflective of the impact of worldview on their practice, to ensure a culturally safe environment for families where parenting styles are understood and appropriately supported.