Students Learn During School Meals With Teachers

Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden evaluated teachers eating lunch with students, a practice in that country referred to as pedagogic meals because it offers the opportunity of having children learn by modeling adults. The researchers, whose work was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, wanted to observe how the teachers interacted with the children during meals to better understand how to interpret results of this practice.

“Our research shows that children are educated in various ways during mealtimes. If the potential of nutrition education during lunchtime is to be realized, teachers must become aware of the effects of their actions. This article could help to achieve this goal,” says Christine Persson Osowski, a postdoctoral student in the university’s department of food, nutrition, and dietetics.

Data from children aged 6 to 12 were collected from three schools in Sweden. Observations of the meals (25 hours total) were combined with observations of the cafeteria itself, interviews with kitchen staff, and focus groups with children. Three types of teachers were identified: sociable, educating, and evasive. Further, there were two types of sociable teachers: one who had adult interests to discuss and another who was more oriented toward the children. Similarly, the educating teacher could be more adult oriented and authoritarian or more child oriented and dialogue directed. Teachers seemed to be more involved with the younger children than the older children.

This research provides a useful tool for researchers and practitioners to clarify best practices for teacher-student interactions during mealtimes and moves beyond what should be done to how it should be done. Being able to provide feedback to teachers on how to interact informally but constructively with students will help improve the school nutrition environment. This research may have implications for parental reflection during mealtimes as well.

Source: Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior