Continuation of unhealthful dietary patterns and poor diet-related health outcomes among socioeconomically disadvantaged populations underscores the need to improve diet quality for this group. Enhancing eating competence, based on the Satter model of eating competence (ecSatter), may be one effective method to reach this goal, but requires substantiation in a low-income audience. This study utilized a qualitative approach to examine the congruence of the ecSatter model with the cognitive eating behaviors of a low-income audience. Structured interviews were conducted during summer of 2006 with 70 low-income adults in Pennsylvania. Themes about decisional factors that guide food selection, nutrition/health interests, and cognitive and affective responses to eating experiences were generated through content analysis. Thematic differences among eating competence levels and food security categories were examined. Nutrition information access preferences were also obtained. Eating competence, measured with the ecSatter Inventory, was low for this sample (mean 28.8+/-8.3). Convenience, mood, family, and availability of food at home, but not nutrition, were salient factors guiding meal and snack planning for both eating competent and noneating competent participants. Nearly equal proportions of persons with eating competence and without eating competence reported that they would make changes to their food purchases if they had more money to spend on food. Interestingly, for participants without eating competence, but not for those with eating competence, weight management played an important role in meal/snack planning, food purchases, and nutrition/health interests. ecSatter provided a tenable framework for rationalizing participants' cognitive and affective responses to eating experiences. Participants without eating competence were more likely to express negative thoughts and feelings associated with eating, regardless of food security status. The Internet, which was accessible to 80% (n=56) of participants, was the most frequently reported convenient method for accessing nutrition information. These findings lead us to recommend that increased attention be placed on cognitive eating behaviors of low-income adults to improve their diet quality.