Food in Primary Schools – studying children’s real-world food choice and dietary behaviour (FiPS study)

black and white image of six primary school children holding hands and laughing


FUNDER: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with support from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council (MRC); Consumer Lab

Supporting better dietary intakes is foremost in addressing childhood obesity – and key to this endeavour is children’s food choice. Using a data-driven approach, combined with direct observation within schools, this project aims to understand the fundamental drivers of children’s food choice within the real-world setting of primary schools. 
This research will investigate what children eat in primary school and how they select their school lunches. This is particularly relevant given that children spend a large proportion of their year attending school and a better understanding of their food choice within the school food environment can contribute to supporting children’s dietary intake and health and wellbeing.
Online pre-order systems that some schools use, for children (and parents) to preselect school lunches, provide a unique opportunity. Food choice datasets generated from these systems provide a high quality and voluminous source for examining food choice. 
In this study, we will examine datasets from recruited schools, across 2 academic years, to provide valuable insights into children's food choices. We will combine this data-driven approach with direct observation of children (across the age range, 5-11 years), where we will observe children’s engagement with the presented menu and their selection of foods on site in schools.  We will also conduct focus group discussions with children and with parents (who use the system to preselect lunches with/for their children) to explore their perspectives and perceptions.
Importantly, findings will be synthesised across analyses, from food choice datasets, direct observation of children and data collected from parents and children. In this way, we will gain a deeper understanding of how children make their food choices, and the relevant factors at play.


This project will provide a better understanding of children’s food choice behaviour, with implications for policy and practice relating to school food.
Findings will act as a springboard for the design and delivery of future interventions to support healthier and more sustainable food choice, with associated positive contributions to children’s dietary health. 
This work will be directly relevant to the school catering industry in the UK – and internationally, in countries with similar school food environments. 
This project, in developing new ways to study and understand real-world food choice behaviour, will also be relevant more broadly, to other food sectors and food choice environments.