Unwrapping school lunch

Examining the social dynamics and caring relationships that play out during school lunch





school lunch, children, care work, ethnographic research


Students are important stakeholders in school food programs. Yet children’s daily experiences and voices are often overlooked in advocacy around school food. In Canada, where the federal government recently expressed interest in creating a National School Food Program, nearly no research has documented the first-hand experiences of children during lunch.  This ethnographic study draws on data collected during 36 lunchtimes in three Canadian schools during a transitional period in a school district’s lunch program. The findings unwrap the powerful role of students’ perceptions of and relationships to food in shaping their social interactions, and their sense of care, connection, and identity. Classroom observations coupled with photos of school lunches demonstrate the wide diversity of foods eaten at school and the nuanced, complex, and sometimes divergent meanings children give to food, school lunch and the people involved in preparing, serving, supervising, and sharing lunchtime experiences.  Students demonstrated in-depth knowledge of the food choices and attitudes of their peers and actively marked out their identities vis-à-vis food. Students frequently talked about food as a site of care and support, and both the social relationships and care work that played out were a major part of school lunch experiences.  Understanding the intricacies of children’s school lunch experiences, including the relationships, meanings, and values that shape school lunch, will be critical for creating robust school food programs and policies in Canada that better serve the needs of children and reduce rather than reproduce existing health and social inequalities.




How to Cite

Black, J. L., Mazac, R., Heckelman , A., & Elliott, S. (2022). Unwrapping school lunch: Examining the social dynamics and caring relationships that play out during school lunch . Canadian Food Studies La Revue Canadienne Des études Sur l’alimentation, 9(2), 276–298. https://doi.org/10.15353/cfs-rcea.v9i2.544