Picturing the Lunchbox: Children Drawing and Talking about ‘Dream’ and ‘Nightmare’ Lunchboxes in the Primary School Setting

Part of the Studies in Childhood and Youth book series (SCY)


The question of what children eat at school, and how they eat, has attracted increasing attention in the United Kingdom in recent years, and this interest has intensified recently with evidence of rising levels of childhood obesity. In this chapter, we want to contribute to the debate about children and food (and we should emphasise here that we are defining food in its broadest terms from chocolate to sandwiches), reporting on some of the findings from an ethnographic research initiative related to food practices in the school setting. As part of a wider study concerning fatherhood, food and family life, we spent some time talking with children during school dinnertimes, and inviting them to draw and comment on ‘dream’ and ‘nightmare’ lunchboxes, during classroom-based arts activities, in order to explore their own ideas about food and eating.1 These children were aged between nine and eleven: old enough to exercise a degree of autonomy in terms of what they ate, where and how — even if only by discarding or exchanging their lunchbox or dinner tray contents — and yet still firmly held within the gaze of teachers, parents and other caregivers. Envisaging ‘dream’ and ‘nightmare’ lunchboxes thus represented a rare opportunity for the children to freely express their ideas.


Food Choice Identity Work School Meal Food Practice Interpretive Repertoire 
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© Caroline Dryden, Alan Metcalfe, Jenny Owen, Geraldine Shipton 2009

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