UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Middle class mothers' experiences and perceptions of school lunch : labour, care, and responsibility Niimi-Burch, Seri


Despite evidence showing suboptimal dietary quality among Canadian school children, Canada remains an outlier among affluent countries in that it does not have a national school food program. Instead, parents and guardians are primarily responsible for sending their children to school with lunch. With calls for a national school food program in Canada, some proponents are advocating for programs available to all students, rather than targeting students “in need”. Scholars and school food program operators have suggested that middle class families “opting out” can be problematic for programs’ financial viability and quality and may contribute to stigma for program users if school food programs are perceived to be for families “in need”. The purpose of this thesis was to explore middle class mothers’ experiences and perceptions of school lunch. Drawing on 14 interviews with mothers of elementary aged children in a British Columbia school district that recently introduced a district-wide lunch program, I analyzed how middle class mothers 1) experience and make meaning of packing school lunch and 2) perceive the school lunch program in their children’s schools and make decisions about participation. Findings show that mothers view lunch packing as part of their responsibility to cultivate their children’s health, that they perform diverse forms of labour in an effort to enact intensive feeding and mothering ideals, and that this foodwork is a potent source of emotions, judgement, and scrutiny. Findings highlight the importance of not only practical, but also ideological and sociocultural factors that can act as barriers and facilitators to lunch program participation. Due to the confluence of parenting and nutritional ideals and the dominant belief that feeding children is a private, rather than public responsibility, using school lunch programs may be perceived as a moral failure to fulfill parental responsibilities, leading some middle class families to “opt out” from participating. This thesis advances scholarly understanding of the complexities of feeding children lunch during the school week. The findings can help inform school meal programs and broader social policies to benefit school age children and their families.

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