Children, school food provision and good meals - Introducing school food provision imto everyday life of pupils

  • Bruselius-Jensen, Maria (Project participant)

    Project: Research

    Project Details


    Developing popular and healthy environments/spaces for school meals with children and young people
    This project is about meals in school. Meals as social, cultural, sensuous, and material events in pupils' everyday lives. It deals with the development of inclusive meal environments/spaces in schools for young as well as older school children - under the umbrella of health promotion.
    The occasion for the project is the increasing interest in children's eating behaviour. An interest primarily nourished by the fact that an increasing number of children and young people are becoming obese and overweight.
    Children in western countries spend an increasing number of hours in institutions, and several of their meals are eaten out of home. Therefore the efforts on promoting healthy food intakes have been focussed on public settings like schools and childcare institutions. The argument is that this is where the children can be met, and many can be reached at the same time (Tones and green 2006).  
    In Denmark there has not been a tradition for providing meals schemes in school. Some schools and communities offer lunch options that the children can buy at lunch time, but most meals are packed lunches brought from home. In Denmark the interest in children's eating behaviour has mainly been put into practice as research and development projects with a focus on the availability of healthy foods in public institutions for children and young people. Food schemes have been introduces as a supplement to packed lunches. At the moment a large number of schools are introducing meal schemes of different kind. An increasing number of these meals are supplied by meal caters, and delivered to the pupils in school or sold from a school cantina.
    As opposed to this interest in the school meal nutrients, the empirical research in this project points to the fact that, from pupils' point of view, the most important determinant for a good school meal is the social relations around the meal. Conditions like sitting next to a friend, and knowing the person who prepared the food. (Bruselius-Jensen,2007). Next to that it seams that most pupils' highest priority for changes in the meal set-up, is oriented towards the construction of the meal environment/space. Conditions in the room where the lunch is eaten (cleanliness, nice odour, green plants, possibilities to eat outside), and how the roles for social behaviour during the meal (are you allowed to chat, do you have a say), are some of the central orientations.
    On that background this project is not particularly interested in whether or not meal schemes are healthier than packed lunches, even thought there are some indications that this is not the case (Fact, 2007, Bruselius-Jensen, 2007, Christensen, 2007). The focus is also not on the actual meal components. The object of this investigation is rather to understand the arena of the school meal as a whole, and from that detour, to ask how meals and meal spaces should be developed in order for young and older school pupils to want to and enjoy participating and eating the (presumably healthy) meals that are offered in the meal schemes.
    Research questions
    The main objective of my research is therefore the social, cultural and structural determinants for meals in school environments. The main research questions can be formulated as:
    How are meals in schools with meal schemes constructed as social, cultural and sensuous everyday experiences? And how are they related to structural determinants?
    How can participatory approaches to developing meals in school, support the development of meal environments/spaces that are inclusive for both young and older school pupils?
    How can healthy eating issues become an integral part of the development of meal spaces?
    Theoretical inspirations
    The subjects in focus in this project are manifold; participation, democracy, health promotion, childhood, schools, meal culture, to name some. The theoretical inspirations that I am referring to are also comprehensive.
    As a staring point my research, as well as my methodological approaches, is inspired by the theoretical approach of critical theory. The approaches from critical theory form my basic understanding of the every day life as a sphere that relates to the life world as opposed to the world of economy and political administrational rationality (in a Habermasian phrasing). The project will work with this differentiation as a basic understanding of the conflict between the objective of the politicians, the caters and maybe even the school administrator, as opposed to the interest and rationality of the pupils, when it comes to defining the important functions of a good school meal.
    Axel Honneth's work on the dynamics of recognition in the development of the self identity inspires me to search for and work to develop the pupils' orientations towards the good life (expressed as the good school meal). I work with these orientations as stories to influence the development of meal environments.
    I am also influenced by the work of Oscar Negt and his theory of educational competences and by his understanding of the minimum of emancipation. I use the work of Oskar Negt to interpret the basic functions of education (building).
    But then on the other hand I find that the essentialist understanding of emancipation and education, and the somehow normative critics of modernisation, some times seems to blur the possibility of acting in and interpreting the field when working with the pupils. In that sense I am inspired by the works of Bronwyn Davies, who, with her inspiration from Foucault, have developed an approach to working in the field which makes it possible to truly fulfil the claim of action research on double sided knowledge development (the researcher learns from the pupils and vice versa).
    I am also studying resent theoretical works on the dynamics of childhood. I am especially interested in the discussions of the balance between children's right to be heard and have influence, and the responsibility of the adults. Especially in relation to health related issues. This discussion also relates to how the essence in The Rights of the Child (UN) can be unfolded in the everyday praxis's of school meals. Also the work on understanding children spaces/places (Rasmussen 2006, Gallagher 2006, Moss 2006) as opposed to places constructed for children by grown ups, is very inspiring to my work.
    Finally I intent to study scientific research on health promotion in school settings. This is a new field for me, and I am just starting to find my way around it. But is seems that there are several approaches to health promotion that could be inspiring to my project.
    The research will view the meal and meal spaces from the pupils' perspective. The project is committed to the insights of the pupils' experience related to meals in school settings. In order to establish this view, the project applies different methods of working with the pupils.
    All collected empirical research is qualitative and have been collected with two different approaches.
    The empirical work in the Ph.D.-project will be based on different modes of action research. I have established cooperation with two public schools. The contact was initiated by the schools. Both schools are in a process of changing their meal schemes. One school (school 1) is developing both a shared cantina and a production kitchen, with possibilities for the pupils to participate in preparing the meals. The other school (school 2) is changing the kitchen employee and the setup of their school cantina. My role as the researcher in the project is to cooperate with the pupils in getting their views and voices established, and to experiment with implementing the pupils' ideas as a strong input to developing new meals and meal environments.
    I have chosen to engage my work more profoundly with school 1. My work in School 2 will function as a reference to the work in school 1.
    I have conducted three workshops with 2nd grade students, in witch they have expressed what their understanding of a good meal in school could consist of. They have worked in a condensed form of a future workshop (forklarende note) and they have expressed themselves both in speech and by painting. The pupils have all been interviewed about their own interpretation of the paintings. On one of the schools the students will continue to develop and experiment with their ideas (school 1).
    I am in the middle of working with a group of 8th grade students (school 1). I have conducted a workshop with them in order to develop visions for the development of the cantina project. Most of the pupils have decided to continue to develop their ideas. They have started their work with developing their ideas and to make small practical test.
    I have been involved in the planning of and will participate in a workshop week with 6th and 7th grade students in school 2. The workshop will focus on good and healthy school meals. And I will be conducting a workshop working with photo-elicitated portraits of the experiences of school meals.
    Prior to the ph.d.-project I have collected research on 3rd and 6th grade pupils' experiences of meals in schools offering different kinds of meal schemes. The research was done with a phenomenological approach. Focus groups and observations were conducted on six schools. These will be included as background material and will point at the direction for the empirical work in the PhD-project.
    Effective start/end date01/11/200620/06/2010


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    • school meals, Childhood, everyday life, health promotion