© 2015 Rhee et al.; licensee BioMed Central. Background: There is growing interest in the relationship between general parenting and childhood obesity. However, assessing general parenting via surveys can be difficult due to issues with self-report and differences in the underlying constructs being measured. As a result, different aspects of parenting have been associated with obesity risk. We developed a more objective tool to assess general parenting by using observational methods during a mealtime interaction. Methods: The General Parenting Observational Scale (GPOS) was based on prior work of Baumrind, Maccoby and Martin, Barber, and Slater and Power. Ten dimensions of parenting were included; 4 were classified in the emotional dimension of parenting (warmth and affection, support and sensitivity, negative affect, detachment), and 6 were classified in the behavioral dimension of parenting (firm discipline and structure, demands for maturity, psychological control, physical control, permissiveness, neglect). Overweight children age 8-12 years old and their parent (n = 44 dyads) entering a weight control program were videotaped eating a family meal. Parents were coded for their general parenting behaviors. The Mealtime Family Interaction Coding System (MICS) and several self-report measures of general parenting were also used to assess the parent-child interaction. Spearman's correlations were used to assess correlation between measures. Results: The emotional dimensions of warmth/affection and support/sensitivity, and the behavioral dimension of firm discipline/structure were robustly captured during the family meals. Warmth/affection and support/sensitivity were significantly correlated with affect management, interpersonal involvement, and communication from the MICS. Firm discipline/structure was inversely correlated with affect management, behavior control, and task accomplishment. Parents who were older, with higher educational status, and lower BMIs were more likely to display warmth/affection and support/sensitivity. Conclusion: Several general parenting dimensions from the GPOS were highly correlated with similar family functioning constructs from the MICS. This new observational tool appears to be a valid means of assessing general parenting behaviors during mealtimes and adds to our ability to measure parent-level factors affecting child weight-related outcomes. Future evaluation of this tool in a broader range of the population and other family settings should be conducted.