2nd graders research on their own food

“I like cod. It tastes delicious.” Eight-year-old Lisa at Borgtun School’s after-school programme raises her hand and attracts some attention.

Contact person
Portrettbilde av Siril Alm
Siril Alm

Scientist
Phone: +47 993 80 399
siril.alm@nofima.no

It’s about fish and most of her fellow pupils were much more exited about sushi and salmon than the traditional cod.

What we witness at Borgtun’s after-school club is no ordinary lesson. It is research. A selection of pupils from 2nd grade are part of a research project that PhD.student Siril Alm conduct together with several scientists at the food research institute Nofima.

Photo of dinner at home

“A couple of months earlier, the pupils had received cameras and taken photographs of their evening meals at home. In the interviews with Alm, they looked through the pictures explaining what the pictures illustrated, what kind of food they preferred for dinner, who at home decide what to have for dinner. A pattern can be that the children get to decide the food at the weekends, but their parents decide during the weekdays when the children are busy and have to rush to get to football practice and other activities. That can mean simple and handy meals such as pizza, fishcakes and sausages, and on some occasions they don’t have time to eat dinner at all,” says Siril Alm.

How are food habits formed?

Naturally the information provided by the children is confidential. Some of the children told of disagreements about the food at home. Others told about receiving the following message from their father or mother: “If you don’t finish your fish you won’t get any dessert, or if you don’t eat your dinner you need to leave the table.”

This is not only about Alm’s doctoral thesis. This is part of a three-year project at Nofima, involving several scientists at the food research institute’s branch office at Tromsø and Ås. Together they will explore food-specific, social and psychological factors concerning dinner. They are researching which types of dinner children prefer, and want to give children an opportunity to tell the scientists what food they like to eat.

“We are attempting to find answers to how children’s food habits are formed and how they can be influenced to choose a healthy diet,” says Siril Alm.

Wow, taco!!!

During the research session at Borgtun School’s after-school programme, Alm showed the children’s photos of the meals on a screen and there was no shortage of comments.

“Pizza is really good,” says an enthusiastic Johan. Many believe pizza is ideal weekend food. But everyone showed enthusiasm when a photo of taco was shown.

“Wow, Taco!!!” could be heard almost like a stadium chant.

“Based on a goal of healthy food, taco is not a bad choice. The meat is full of protein and this is accompanied by cheese and lettuce. If one buys one of the leaner mince alternatives, like ground beef mince, and tortillas made from whole grain, you have achieved a successful and healthy meal. Taco is usually a social meal where the children can choose themselves what they want in their tortilla or taco shell. This is accompanied by the bonus of the contented and positive feeling of the weekends,” says Siril Alm.

Surprisingly fond of fish

She is also positively surprised about the children’s enthusiasm about some of the fish dishes.

“There is virtually no enthusiasm about traditional fish and potatoes. The potato often creates discussion. For some the potato is “yuk”, while some think it’s the best, for example topped with melted butter,” she says.

“There are few fans of cod and saithe, but the enthusiasm rises when salmon is mentioned. However, surprisingly many of the young children are enthusiastic about sushi. Sushi is after all young people’s food and possibly it has caught on from young parents or older siblings. Not only is sushi healthy, it also tastes great.”

Exaggerated fear of “junk”

Her preliminary conclusion is that food is an important pleasure for the children. The social factor is significant.

“In addition, the fear that children eat junk food is possibly exaggerated. The studies the children have done themselves show that Friday, Saturday and Sunday are relaxed days where the feelgood factor connected with good meals with the family is significant. The challenge perhaps is what can be done to give more space for “fast food” on the busy days that is as healthy as possible,” she says.

Planning is probably the key word in this context, and she encourages the parents to plan meals to a greater extent. If you already have the food in the fridge when you get home from work, it’s easier and quicker to choose a healthy dinner. Fish is a splendid product that requires a short preparation time and can be varied in many different ways.

Below is a selection of tasty recipes that can provide inspiration for busy parents and children.

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