A Study of School Meals: How Cafeteria Culture and Role Models Shape the Eating Habits of Students

By Jillian Correia and Ali Sakkal.

Published by Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: October 22, 2015 $US5.00

This study examined school lunches in the United Kingdom to understand the attitudes and practices surrounding cafeteria food patterns. In particular, it investigated the role of educators and role models in the cafeteria setting to analyze how role model-student interactions influence students’ eating habits. Using a qualitative research methodology in London primary and lower schools, interviews of fourteen headteachers, teachers, and chefs and fieldwork observations of approximately 830 students provided the data. Findings yielded varying levels of role model-student interaction and conflicting approaches when monitoring students’ behaviors and eating habits during lunchtime. These results were used to formulate three education philosophies that emerged from the data—the Removed Authority Role Model, the Accommodating Role Model, and the Social Educational Role Model—concluding that the Social Educational Role Model was most effective at encouraging positive behavior and healthy eating habits in the cafeteria. For schools and educators looking to cultivate strong role model-student relationships and healthier school food culture, three recommendations were provided: elevate the lunch environment by encouraging proper dining etiquette and rituals, encourage role models to eat with students, and shift the focus from monitoring behavior to role model-student dialogue centered on food awareness.

Keywords: School Lunch, Student Eating Habits, Food Culture, Children, Health, Social Development, Experiential Learning, Role Models

Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 6, Issue 1, March 2016, pp.1-13. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: October 22, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 485.300KB)).

Jillian Correia

Student Researcher, Department of Education, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Dr. Ali Sakkal

Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of Education, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA