Children are the decision-makers, and the decision on school lunch or a packed lunch is made by children and not by their parents, says a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
"Children's role in their packed lunch provision highlights their growing authority over everyday food decisions. Packed lunches provide a unique medium because they connect the school, parent, and student. There is limited research, though, on parents' perspectives and perceptions related to packed lunches, specifically the role of children in food choice and preparation," said lead author Hannah Ensaff, Ph.D., School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.
Study participants were twenty parents providing a packed lunch for their children (aged 5 - 11 years) attending four urban primary schools in the UK. Focus groups were conducted to promote discussion among parents to gain an understanding of contrasting viewpoints. Key topics explored included reasons for selecting a packed lunch, foods and beverages included and their selection, role of children in preparation, and packed lunch policies.
The ability to monitor that lunch had been eaten was cited as a benefit of a packed lunch over school lunch and providing a treat in the packed lunch was also important to parents. The inclusion of treats and other items such as chips, chocolate, and soda is often prohibited by packed lunch guidelines, but parents questioned whether enforcement is possible. They also reported children trying to persuade parents to ignore the policy by reporting on what other children had brought to school.
Children's growing authority over food choice has implications for staff involved in providing school food and presents an opportunity to develop initiatives to promote better food choices and subsequent nutrition," said Dr. Ensaff. "This is particularly important as schools are being used for public health interventions." Further research is needed to explore children's perceptions of their role as active decision makers in food choices both in packed lunches and school meals.