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Feeding strategies used by primary school meal staff and their impact on children’s eating

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Abstract Background: 

In parent–child interactions, feeding strategies including pressure, restriction, modelling, rewards, encouragement and repeated taste exposure have been reliably shown to influence children’s eating. Because there is no evidence that the psychosocial interactions inherent in the strategies are context-dependent, the present study investigated their utilisation during primary school meal supervision. Methods: 

A case study of one Local Authority in Wales was conducted involving eleven primary schools stratified into socio-economic quartiles. Focussed observations were carried out over two to three lunchtimes per school to explore the feeding strategies, outcomes and behaviours inherent in the dining hall context. These were supplemented by semi-structured interviews with catering staff and midday supervisors, which were carried out after the observation session. Results: 

Most feeding strategies used by school meal staff reflected those reported in the literature (e.g. pressure, encouragement and rewards), although purposeful modelling of eating behaviours was not found and the imposition of food norms, such as eating dessert last, was common. Dining hall staff readily, if not consistently, used these strategies, although the constraints and opportunities of each dining hall context influenced their selection and implementation. However, even if children left the service point with nutritionally balanced meals, they often failed to eat them. Conclusions: 

Because repeated taste exposure is known to increase liking for foods, further studies are recommended to investigate how the naturally occurring feeding strategies evident in primary school dining halls could be harnessed to encourage children to taste the nutritionally balanced schools meals that school meal transformation programmes will expose them to.
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Keywords: children; feeding strategies; healthy eating; repeated taste exposure; school meals

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Ethics, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK 2: Department of Psychology, Swansea University, Swansea, UK

Publication date: 2010-02-01

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