Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version

Spring 4-23-2019

Thesis Advisor

Dr. Morgan Hoke


National School Lunch Program, ethnography, nutrition, socialization


In light of the obesity epidemic, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has been extensively analyzed and criticized. Thus far, literature examining the NSLP has focused on what foods are provided rather than what is actually eaten. Additionally, there is limited research on the socialization effects of school lunch and childhood foodways within a school setting. The socialization of children during household mealtimes has been extensively studied, but these studies have been limited to the family dinner table. The purpose of this ethnographic study is to determine how children are socialized during school lunch and to examine the extent to which children understand health and nutrition. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with students from a middle school in northern New Jersey. The participants were also observed during various lunch periods in the school cafeteria. Faculty members and lunch service workers were also informally interviewed. The data from the participant interviews and lunchroom observations was synthesized and the analysis of the data revealed common thematic elements: gender, nutritional discourse, commensality, and socialization mechanisms. During school lunch, children sit with students of their own gender, so male and female students are socialized differently. Observations indicate that female students are more likely to share food at the lunch table and male students are more physically active and are less likely to finish their meals. The interviews suggested that children have a basic and profound understanding of health and nutrition which is primarily learned at home. The observations suggest that the mechanism of linguistic socialization deviates from the narrative structure described in the mealtime literature; children reinforce gender roles during lunch time conversations, but their conversations follow different narrative structures. In the context of the obesity crisis, this study reveals the importance of school lunch on socialization and its effects on students’ food choices.



Date Posted: 22 August 2019


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