Children’s food meanings and eating contexts: schools and their surroundings


– Concerns on children’s obesity and overweight have been related to food diets with excessive sugar and fat. Given the relevance of school meals in Portuguese children’s lives, schools follow governmental guidelines in order to provide nutritiously balanced and healthy meals. As imbalances persist, this study aims at understanding the acceptance of school meals by children, in the context of competing marketing allures of nutritiously poor foods outside the schools.


– Plural qualitative research techniques (focus groups with children and parents, direct observation and interviews with school directors and kitchen staff) were combined to analyse children’s food-related meanings and practices, and also images of food displayed at schools and in their surroundings. The empirical data were collected in four primary and secondary public schools with different socio-economic backgrounds in the area of Lisbon.


– Results show sharp contrasts between food images and meanings at school canteens and commercial food outlets outside schools. Data suggest that subjection to supervision, unappetizing school meals and images in the canteens stand out against favourite flavours and social levers (such as autonomy and status) of food available outside school.
Research limitations/implications
– This study has an exploratory nature and results are not-generalizable to other schools of the country.


– Limited attention has been paid to competing social contexts of children’s food consumption at schools and their surroundings in Portugal. Research results can bring insights to conceptual development on school meals and children’s food practices.