In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Food

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Children and Nutrition
  • Breastfeeding
  • Weaning
  • School Food Policy
  • Mealtimes and Snack Times in Schools and Early Childhood Settings
  • Promoting Healthy Eating
  • Children, Poverty, and Food Insecurity
  • Identity
  • Families
  • Children’s Perspectives on Food
  • “Fast” or “Junk” Foods and Popular Culture
  • Food Advertising to Children
  • Childhood Obesity
  • Eating Disorders in Children

Childhood Studies Food
Deborah Albon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0081


The area of “children and food” contains work from a range of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, dietetics, and policy studies. This reflects the multidisciplinary interest in the topic. Globally, there are concerns about the diet of children in terms of food insecurity and obesity, for example; indeed, issues relating to food rarely appear to be out of the news. Babies and very young children are generally regarded as requiring a different nutritional intake when compared to adults and older children, and “childhood” is often constructed as an optimum time in which children learn to adopt “healthy” eating behaviors as well as culturally accepted modes of behavior associated with food and eating. Schools and early childhood settings are often viewed as playing a crucial role in inculcating healthy eating habits and ensuring children receive a healthy meal, but clearly the home is the prime site in which children eat meals and snacks and receive information about food and food provisioning. From birth (and even pre-conception), parents—especially mothers—receive messages about the kinds of foods they should eat (during pregnancy) and the kinds of foods they should feed their growing infant: the promotion of breastfeeding being a clear example of this. Furthermore, food is an area in which ideas about the “family” are played out, not least through notions of the “family meal.” Food plays a vital role in people’s sense of identity, not least in eating or not eating certain foods. Thus, food has meaning for all human beings beyond nutrition. Increasingly, writers in the area of children and food are acknowledging and foregrounding work in relation to children’s agency in food provisioning, which reflects a trend more generally in early childhood and childhood studies toward seeing children as active participants in their own lives. Therefore, a consideration of food through the lens of “children” and “childhood” is important. The children and food area of Oxford Bibliographies Online will concentrate primarily on work within a sociological frame of reference as opposed to the vast array of nutrition related, biomedical studies. Some of this work will be referred to, but researchers and students wishing to have a comprehensive overview of nutrition-based studies should explore the children and nutrition area, too.

General Overviews

In this section, an overview of the subject is provided in a range of materials. A number of useful anthologies are available within the topic area of food and these will also be reviewed as to their usefulness for researchers and students wishing to examine children and food as their focus. Albon and Mukherji 2008 is useful for those with an interest in early childhood and is particularly suitable at the undergraduate level. Two recent anthologies, James, et al. 2009 and Jackson 2009 are especially good but there is also useful material in other anthologies without an explicit focus on children and food, e.g., Counihan and van Esterik 1997; Fürst, et al. 1991; Korsmeyer 2005; and Germov and Williams 2004. Murcott 1998 reports on food choices in the 1990s in the United Kingdom and includes material concerning the diet of children.

  • Albon, Deborah, and Penny Mukherji. Food and Health in Early Childhood. London: SAGE, 2008.

    This book is written primarily for students studying early childhood in undergraduate courses but is also of use to researchers in this field. Alongside chapters on nutrition, there are chapters on culture and identity, policy; and food and emotion. The book provides a comprehensive overview for someone new to the topic. “Early childhood” is taken to mean infants/children from birth to eight years.

  • Counihan, Carole, and Penny van Esterik, eds. Food and Culture: A Reader. London: Routledge, 1997.

    This collection contains a wide range of articles from a range of disciplines—many of which are widely regarded as “classic” studies and some of which are reproduced from other volumes/journals, e.g., the work of Anna Freud and Mary Douglas. As these two examples demonstrate, there are chapters that explore the topic of food from a range of perspectives, some of which relate to children directly, e.g., Freud’s chapter.

  • Fürst, Elizabeth L., Ritva Prättälä, Marianne Ekström, Lotte Holm, Unni Kjaernes, and Solum Forlag, eds. Palatable Worlds. Oslo, Norway: Solum, 1991.

    A collection of papers which examine food and eating from a range of perspectives, e.g., modern “tastescapes” (Falk) and class and gender in the kitchen (Ekström), although they do so without an explicit focus on children and food.

  • Germov, John, and Lauren Williams, eds. A Sociology of Food & Nutrition: The Social Appetite. 2d ed. South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    A useful edited book containing articles on food and public health, food consumption and identity, and food and the body. Again, the focus is not on children and food per se but chapters such as Murphy’s (infant feeding) and Coveney’s (family food habits) are highly relevant.

  • Jackson, Peter, ed. Changing Families, Changing Food. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230244795

    This edited collection looks at the relationship between families and food as the family is considered to be an important context in which decisions about our everyday lives, including decisions about what to eat, are shaped. Like the edited collection James, et al. 2009, it is written in a scholarly yet accessible style, and so undergraduates and graduates alike will find it to be useful.

  • James, Allison, Anne Trine Kjørholt, and Vebjørg Tingstad. Children, Food and Identity in Everyday Life. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230244979

    This edited collection of scholarly yet accessible chapters is of direct relevance to researchers and students looking at children and food. Different contexts for food consumption are focused upon, e.g., home and school in each chapter, and there is an emphasis on children as active participants in their own lives and the complex ways in which their identities are mediated through food.

  • Korsmeyer, Carolyn, ed. The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink. Oxford: Berg, 2005.

    This anthology, while not focusing on children and food per se, examines the sensuous dimensions of eating and drinking and draws on historical, anthropological, and sociological works on the topic. Many key writers on the subject are included, such as Bourdieu and Goody. Thus, it may prove useful for the reader in gaining a sense of different perspectives in the field.

  • Murcott, Anne, ed. The Nation’s Diet: The Social Science of Food Choice. London: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998.

    This book focuses on food choice—why we eat what we eat—in the United Kingdom and reports on the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) research program “The Nation’s Diet” (1992–1998), which was a multidisciplinary set of linked research studies. Some chapters deal specifically with children and food, e.g., chapters 4, 13, and 15.

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