The literature suggests that there is significant familial aggregation of eating disorders. A specific association has also been reported between childhood feeding problems and maternal eating disorder. This study investigates whether subgroups of children with early onset eating disturbance are distinguished by maternal eating disorder history. The mothers of 66 children with either anorexia nervosa (AN), food avoidance emotional disorder (FAED) or selective eating (SE) were interviewed to ascertain eating disorder history. Seventeen per cent of mothers reported a history of eating disorder, compared with 3%–5% reported for community samples. A history of eating disorder was reported by 5.9% of mothers of children with SE, 12.9% of mothers of children with AN and 33.3% of mothers of children with FAED. The findings, based on this small sample, suggest that children with FAED are especially likely to have grown up in a dysfunctional food environment. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.