Food and friendship, students who love lunch often feel like they belong

Aug 19, 2022, 2:08 PM | Updated: Aug 30, 2022, 3:38 pm

BYU lunch study...

FILE: Skyridge High School students talk in the lunchroom on Monday, Aug. 22, 2016. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Lunch might not be an official subject, but some middle-schoolers might tell you it’s their favorite one. And whether it is, or isn’t, may tell you something important about your child.

The news comes from BYU researchers, who published a study in the Journal of Community Psychology. After surveying over 800 middle schoolers, the researchers said they linked love for lunchtime with a sense of belonging at school. 

The survey asked students about lunch activities they do and do not enjoy. The preferences of the students led to five profiles, according to a press release.   

  • Non-active: Students who selected a few activities they liked or disliked participating in during lunch.
  • No goof-off: Students who dislike goofing off or messing around during lunch.
  • Studious: Students who like to read a book or finish homework at lunch.
  • No lunch friends: Students who are unsure what to do or dislike lunch because they feel that they don’t have lunch friends.
  • Active: Students who use lunchtime to go outside, be active, goof off, and talk to friends.

Not surprisingly, the students who fit into the “active” profile also said they felt they belonged while they were at school.

The researchers said the study results provide educators an opportunity to help more students get that “connected” feeling.

“For many students, the unstructured part of lunch is needed,” said Dr. Erin Feinauer Whiting,  the lead author of the study. “For others, lunchtime is accompanied by social anxiety, uncertainty, or even bullying.”

How schools can help all students enjoy lunch

Whiting says that schools can help students feel more comfortable during lunchtime.

“Teachers can look for ways to provide spaces for students who prefer quieter activities or chances to study,” said Whiting, a BYU associate professor of multicultural education in the McKay School of Education. “There are all kinds of things a school can do, but often they’re just not thinking about it for the potential it can have.”

The study authors say they don’t suggest adding more duties onto the plates of teachers or administrators. But they do suggest that school officials think creatively about how to support kids during lunchtime who don’t feel connected. Their ideas include semi-structured lunchtime activities that are led by students, or, small lunch groups also led by students.

“Our finding that loving lunchtime is consistently positively related to students’ sense of belonging underscores the importance of facilitating meaningful and integrated lunchtime experiences,” Whiting said.

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Food and friendship, students who love lunch often feel like they belong