Poster Topical Area: Nutrition Education and Behavioral Sciences

Location: Auditorium

Poster Board Number: 208

P18-040 - Eating Healthy When Away from Home: Elementary School-age Children’s Behaviors and Perceptions

Sunday, Jun 10
8:00 AM – 6:00 PM


To qualitatively explore school-age children's behaviors and perceptions related to eating healthy when away from home.


Children (n=194; ages 6-11) in 3 states (FL, NJ, WV) completed a survey and 44 participated in focus groups (FG) moderated by trained researchers. Data were content analyzed by 2 trained researchers to identify common themes.


Most children recognized the importance of eating healthy foods when not at home. However, those who infrequently ate meals away from home felt these were special occasions, so eating healthy when away from home was not important. Most meals children ate away from home were consumed at school with kids reporting they ate breakfast, lunch, and snacks at school. Lunch was the most common school meal, and frequently included pizza, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets served with milk. Almost all kids reported their parents considered it important for children to eat healthy foods when away from home to maintain good health. Children acknowledged receiving advice from parents to eat healthy (eat fruits and vegetables), but were allowed to decide for themselves what to eat when away from home. When eating out, kids choose water, soda, or juice drinks and, when eating out was a special occasion, they were more likely to drink sugar sweetened beverages. A barrier to healthy eating when away from home was availability of unhealthy food, but kids indicated they could overcome this and take responsibility by asking for healthy foods or packing healthy options to bring from home. Children suggested that parents help kids by checking what kids eat or pack to eat away from home, monitoring foods kids buy, and keeping healthy options available at home. To help children choose healthy foods when eating away from home, kids thought parents should provide incentives and pack healthy options. Kids also felt parents should talk to caregivers about having healthy options available for kids. Children acknowledged that people around them influenced their food choices, they mimicked their parents' choices, and that siblings copy what they eat or vice versa.


Children recognize the importance of choosing healthy foods when eating away from home, but without parental oversight or healthy options available, children typically choose less healthy options.

Funding Source:

United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Grant Number 2017-680001-26351

CoAuthors: Rebecca Hagedorn – West Virginia University; Kaitlyn Eck – Rutgers University; Colleen Delaney – Rutgers University; Karla Shelnutt – University of Florida; Carol Byrd-Bredbenner – Rutgers University; Melissa Olfert – West Virginia University; MIriam Leary – West Virginia University

Miriam P. Leary

Post-doc Fellow
West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia