PhD Defence: School Meals in Children’s Social Life

- A Study of Contrasting Meal Arrangements

PhD defence

Sidse Schoubye Andersen


This dissertation explores the role of different school meal arrangements in children’s social life from a child’s perspective. The dissertation utilizes a school meal intervention carried out in Denmark in 2011-12 to compare the same group of children in different school meal arrangements, thereby overcoming typical challenges of comparison across school meal arrangements, such as differences across children, schools or countries. The dissertation builds on data from a four month field work in 4th grade, 26 semi-structured interviews with children, chefs, and teachers, and 834 children’s self-reported evaluation of their school meals.

Three themes guide the analyses: commensality, liking, and food education. Through these themes, the dissertation explores how school meals shape social positions, relations and interactions between adults and children. The dissertation shows that peers are important in children’s evaluation of new food initiatives in school; that children meet conflicting approaches to food education depending on the context; and that the social powers of sharing and exchanging individual lunch packs could outweigh some of the benefits of a collective meal system. Overall, the dissertation directs attention to unforeseen social consequences of different school meal arrangements, and shows how school meals are not innocent; they shape and are shaped by children’s everyday life and altering school meals thus have important social consequences for children’s social life.

The study is part of the OPUS project: ‘Optimal well-being, development and health for Danish children through a healthy New Nordic Diet’, supported by a grant from the Nordea Foundation (Nordea-fonden), Denmark.


Lotte Holm, Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University  of Copenhagen, Denmark

Charlotte Baarts, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen

Assesment Committee

Annemette Ljungdalh Nielsen, Associate Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Mónica Truninger, Senior Reserch Fellow, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Christina Fjellström, Professor, Uppsala University, Sweden

If you are interested in a copy of the thesis, you can contact the PhD student or one of the supervisors.