Understanding the food choice process of adolescents in the context of family and friends
ABSTRACT To understand from the adolescents' own perspective the decision-making processes they use to make food choices on an everyday basis and how they resolve their need for personal control over food choices with the values of family and peers.
A sample of 108 adolescents, aged 11-18 years, were individually interviewed. They were asked in a simulated task to choose a lunch from a menu of offerings and give reasons for their choices. In addition, open-ended questions probed for meal structures, dinners, perceptions of degree of choice, role of family and peers. Interviews were audio-taped, transcribed, coded, and analyzed for emerging themes.
Primary food choice criteria were taste, familiarity/habit, health, dieting, and fillingness. Lunches had a definite structure, and lunches differed from dinners. The food choice process involved personal food decision-making rules such as trade-offs among choice criteria within a meal (e.g., taste for core items and health for secondary items), and between lunches with peers (taste) and family dinners (health); negotiation patterns with the family (autonomy versus family needs); and interactions with peers.
The food choice process for most adolescents seemed to involve cognitive self-regulation where conflicting values for food choices were integrated and brought into alignment with desired consequences. Educators and practitioners should recognize the dilemmas adolescents face in making food choices and help them develop strategies for balancing less healthful with more healthful food items, through: (a) personal food decision-making rules, (b) effective negotiations with family members; and (c) appropriate interaction patterns with peers.
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