2020, pp. 101–110
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Background. Parent-aimed guidance on the topic of processed foods may help limit highly processed foods in children’s diets, but little is known about parent understanding and perceptions of these products. Aims. To determine how parent perceptions of processing align with processing classification systems used in research, and to identify opportunities for future research in communicating information about processed foods. Method. Six focus groups with lower income, racial/ethnic minority and immigrant parents of fourth to sixth graders (n = 37) were conducted. Parents were asked to discuss their views on terminology related to food processing, classification of foods according to their processing level, the healthfulness of select foods, and criteria for choosing snacks for their children. Focus groups were guided by a thematic approach. NVivo 12 (QSR International) was used to facilitate analyses. Results. Thirty mothers and seven fathers participated. Two thirds (62%) were foreign-born; 38% identified as Hispanic. The term “processing” lacked consistent meaning among parents, with variation by immigrant status. Participants associated highly processed foods with convenience, packaging, and added ingredients; “less-processed” versions of foods (e.g., fresh; homemade) were perceived as healthier. Children’s preferences were the main criteria for choosing snacks. Foreign-born parents were more likely to associate processed foods with positive characteristics (e.g., properly cooked). Conclusion. The concept of food processing is an area of misconception among parents, providing an opportunity for education that may be extended to larger audiences. A universally accepted definition of food classification by processing level is necessary to effectively communicate the link between processing and healthfulness.