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<Inclusive ConsumptionKapittel 8 av 11

8. Packed Lunch Poverty: Immigrant Families’ Struggles to Include Themselves in Norwegian Food Culture

Silje Elisabeth Skuland is a sociologist and a senior researcher at Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) at OsloMet. She has worked for SIFO since 2009 with topics related to food consumption, gender, housework, class differences, poverty and inclusion and exclusion.

Everyday consumption plays a key role for including immigrants in capitalist welfare states such as Norway. Packed school lunches are no exception. In Norway, more than half of children in low-income households have an immigrant background. This chapter discusses how immigrant families manage packed school lunches on tight food budgets, based on 28 interviews of non-European immigrant families. The packed lunch reveals how food consumption, ethnicity and financial constraints intersect.

Keywords: food poverty, packed lunches, social inclusion, immigrant families, young people, integration

8.1 Introduction

In the aftermath of the refugee crisis in 2015, the integration of immigrants became the top theme on the political agenda, reinforcing worries that the welfare state cannot provide for large population groups with fewer options to obtain gainful work. While economic growth and prosperity in the 1960s invited and welcomed foreigners seeking work, immigration was soon seen as a social problem. Attention to the poor living conditions of migrants was growing and the universalistic welfare model in Norway, with its generous benefits and pensions, was perceived as countering integration of immigrants into the labour force (Brockmann and Hagelund, 2008). Meanwhile in the 1990s, liberal ideas that work is a route out of poverty and that work should pay gained political momentum (Hatland, 2009; Richards et al., 2016).

With fewer opportunities in the labour market, immigrant families are overrepresented in the child poverty statistics. More than half of all children living in households with persistent low income have an immigrant background (Statistics Norway, 2014). Immigrant children from Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan stand out by being highly overrepresented in the group growing up in the low-income households. In particular, children with backgrounds from Somalia are overrepresented, and in 2013, three out of four children of Somali heritage belonged to a family with persistent low income. Over half of the children with backgrounds from Iraq and Afghanistan lived in households with an income below the poverty level. The proportion of economically vulnerable children is growing in these immigrant groups. Families often have weak occupational ties, low upward income-mobility, and many family members to support. Meanwhile, the financial support to families has either been cut or not been adjusted to overall price growth for decades (such as the Child Benefits) (Statistics Norway, 2014). Moreover, in many municipalities, social assistance recipients are only provided supplementary cash benefits for a defined number of dependent children. In Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, for example, such financial aid is only paid for up till three children.

Labour market integration is perceived as the main contributor to a successful integration of the adult immigrant population in the Norwegian society. For children, the school and the kindergarten are considered instrumental in preparing children for later education and working life. While much has been said about the role education plays in integration of immigrant children (Drange and Telle, 2010), how financial constraints impact integration of immigrants has been less emphasised. While attending public school is cost-free in Norway, it requires several necessary expenses for families and thus involves consumption of school equipment, proper clothes, outdoor leisure equipment and, in Norway where there is no school meal scheme, consumption of food. While the social-inclusive aspects of education are strong in contemporary Nordic education politics (Arnesen and Lundahl, 2006: 296), few studies have focused upon the social inclusiveness of school meals. This chapter focuses on how low-income immigrant families manage school lunches and how they comply with the packed lunch norm.

8.1.1 The packed lunch norm

Over the last two decades, the packed school lunch (matpakka) has been in the centre of public as well as political debates. In the 2013 election, the Socialist Left party made free school meals an important social-political goal. Meanwhile, the Red-Green coalition government, which they were part of, had not been able to agree on more than a free fruit arrangement, an arrangement that was later reduced to an offer of subsidized fruit when a coalition government between the Conservatives and the Progress party took over in 2013.

Meanwhile, the packed school lunch format originated from the 1930s’ so-called Oslo breakfast, which aimed at providing nutritious food to schoolchildren from the lower social strata (Lyngø, 2003). The school meal program represented a shift from hot to cold meals as a means to preserve vitamins, which were believed to be fragile to heat treatment. The Oslo breakfast spread outside of Oslo and the Sigdal-breakfast in rural areas resembled the packed lunch format in Norway today, including open sandwiches with various toppings such as cheese, liver pate or ham. Kjærnes and Døving (2009) argue that the cold school meal represented a culinary revolution that spread to other institutions and work-life. The packed lunch was welcomed by factories and small businesses and meant no need to hire a cook for preparing meals for the workers. Today, the packed lunch symbolizes Norwegian national identity, family life and everyday frugality (Døving, 1999). The packed lunch indeed solved the challenge of feeding schoolchildren a nutritious meal at a low cost for the family. The question discussed here, is whether the packed lunch has outplayed its role. Does the packed lunch represent a convenient and low-cost meal for all schoolchildren, including ethnic minority children?

School food arrangements have been a favourable study object in research on healthy and unhealthy eating patterns of children and adolescents (Foster et al., 2008; Story et al., 2009). Meanwhile, social aspects of the school meal are a less studied area. Neely et al. (2015) argue that shared school lunches may promote school connectedness and contribute to tolerance of diversity through providing insights into other cultural customs and personalities. Meanwhile, the school setting is also where children and youth negotiate and manage issues of poverty (Fernqvist, 2013) as well as ethnic identities (Devine and Kelly, 2006). The packed lunch, for instance, displays both the possibilities and constraints of the household (Morrison, 1996). Andersen, Holm and Baart (2015) argue that the served school meal creates social bonds between children who like and eat the served food, but it also excludes those children that do not like or (cannot) eat the meals, for instance due to religious commands. The packed lunch, on the other hand, allows for exchanging food as gifts producing solidarity and sympathy among classmates (Andersen et al., 2015: 405). However, it is less clear how immigrant children and their parents comply with the packed school food norm. Furthermore, few studies have emphasized what role economic differences among and between minority children and majority children play. This chapter thus explore how immigrant families manage packed lunches on a tight food budget and thus asks how immigrant families comply with the packed lunch norm in economic hardship.

8.1.2 Concepts on packed lunch and poverty

The chapter employs Peter Townsend’s (1979) concept of poverty, arguing that people…

…can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or are at least widely encouraged or approved, in the societies to which they belong. Their resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities (Peter Townsend, 1979: 31).

Thus, Townsend’s relative approach to poverty emphasises that food poverty is not limited to inadequate quantity or nutritional quality (diets), but also to the social and cultural significance of food and eating. Following O’Connell et al. (2018), the chapter understand food poverty broader than hunger or malnutrition. Food is fundamentally meaningful, a source of pleasure and a means of social inclusion and exclusion. Furthermore, what food to buy and eat is tied to enacting agency in a consumer society (O’Connell et al., 2018: 4).

The packed lunch can thus be understood as a as a customary activity widely encouraged by society (including the schools, the government and majority food cultural values), which depends on sufficient resources (food, money and food cultural learning) in order for immigrant families to be included in ordinary living patterns. Moreover, the packed lunch is socially meaningful and thus a means of social inclusion and exclusion.

8.2 Methods

This study comprises qualitative interviews with 28 immigrant families originating from East-Africa, Middle-East Asia, Central Asia, South-America and North Caucasus including 30 young persons, who participated in a larger project about food and eating in low-income families.1 None of the families recruited consisted of second-generation adults (parents). Only families where either the mother or both parents were born outside of Norway were included in the study. According to Statistics Norway (2016), 36 percent of first-generation immigrants from East-Europe, Asia, Africa and South-America and 19 percent of second-generation immigrants have low income measured as 60 percent of the median income (EU scale) (Statistics Norway 2016). All families reported some form of challenges to making ends meet. A few parents reported severe forms of food poverty such as skipping meals or eating less in order for the family to have enough food. Some visited food banks, but the majority said that the main challenge was constantly monitoring their budget and restricting purchases except regular expenses and basic needs. (See overview of families in appendix).

The family interviews included young persons aged 9–17 years and their parents. The interviews took place in the homes of the families between May 2015 and April 2017. Normally a parent, usually a mother, was interviewed first, then the young person. Most of the time, parents and child were interviewed separately, but on some occasions, the child needed to translate between interviewer and parent. The interviews covered questions about the food day, asking both parents and children to describe all food and meals yesterday, social activities, eating with extended family, neighbours, friends, eating in schools and money for food, who prepares packed lunches, how to manage packed lunches financially, food rules at home and in school, household income and expenses, pocket money, social environment, friendship, family life and worries about food and money. All interviews were recorded, transcribed and given pseudonyms.

Interviewing children about their lives in difficult economic times poses several ethical concerns. Asking children for their consent and explaining the project in an age appropriate way has thus been very important. This was done in the beginning of each interview with the young person, and emphasis was put on the purpose of the study, anonymity, why the interview was recorded and what would happen to the recorded interview, what consenting participation means and the possibility to withdraw consent after the interview had taken place.

Immigrant children and their parents’ life worlds often differ significantly in terms of social belonging and feeling of being in-between (Fangen, 2007). The analyses are based upon the young people’s account of food and eating at school. However, since parents are responsible for managing packed lunches financially and often preparing the lunch boxes for their children, the study has analysed both parents’ and young people’s accounts. Thus, the packed lunch is explored in several family life contexts: as a part of generational, financial and ethnical everyday interactions.

Rural areas differ contextually to urban areas in terms of social exclusion and isolation of immigrants (Valenta, 2007). The families were initially recruited through a school-based survey, sent to three schools at two city areas in Oslo and one municipality in Telemark. Only a handful of families were recruited. New recruitment strategies were needed which meant recruiting from other rural and urban areas. The remaining families were recruited with the help of local workers, through snowballing, local initiatives, charities and through food banks.

8.3 Findings

Most of the young research participants in this study ate packed lunches most days a week, but a few predominantly bought food at the nearby shop or the school canteen. Two young informants went home to eat during the lunch break. One boy, Ulrich, said he always brought a packed lunch, but rarely ate it. (See overview over the children’s school lunch habits in appendix.)

Some of the schools where the young people in this study attended, offered breakfast before school starts, soup for pupils doing homework at school or a snack or small hot meal in school canteens once a week. A few of the urban multi-ethnic schools located in areas associated with high proportions of low-income families sold pizza, hamburgers and fizzy drinks to the pupils every day. School canteens may put extra stress on low-income families since it creates expectations among the children to bring money to school (Harju and Thorød, 2011). A few of the young people seldom or never had money to buy food in the school canteen or at the nearby shop. Others seldom bought food at school, but never mentioned that lacking money was the reason. For some young people buying food during the school day was prohibited by the school, or there was no school canteen or nearby shop to buy food.

8.3.1 Transition to the packed lunch norm

An important question to the immigrant families was how they learned about the packed lunch as well as other meal formats foreign to them at the point of arrival. Staple food such as rice, bread, potatoes and pasta are the kind of food habits people tend to hold on to longer in the meeting with a new food culture (Koctürk-Runefors, 1991). Thus, how did the transition to whole grain bread with topping wrapped in paper or packed in a lunch box happen in the immigrant families?

Asking where or from whom the families had learned to do the packed lunches, seemed not be something that the families had given much thought to. However, some families who recently migrated to Norway told that they learned about the packed lunch at the introduction programs for refugees, a 600-hour full-time skill acquisition programme offered to new arrivals. Others, such as 12-year-old Filip and his family, who migrated to Norway as asylum seekers in 2014 from Middle-East Asia, told that they learned about the packed lunch from school. Florina, the mother of four children said that ‘we just started doing the Norwegian’ explaining that ‘I tried to like eh… the bread we buy in the Asian store […] but they didn’t like it’ (referring to her children). However, the children ate the Asian bread at home. Moreover, the Asian bread seemed to have a different purpose than the Norwegian bread. Finley, the father, told that ‘because when we cook some food, you have to eat it with bread. Eh… then it is not good that…eh… like Norwegian bread. You can’t eat it’, and Florina added that Norwegian bread ‘is rather expensive as well […], much more expensive than the Asian’. It thus seems that the children’s food preference plays an important role for adopting the packed school lunch norm among immigrant families, but that it only stretches so far for both children and their parents. It seems to stop at the family meal, at least for Filip and his family. Moreover, while bread is a staple food in many of the migrant families, the type of bread and the meal occasions it belongs to may differ significantly from majority to minority food cultures.

Still, belonging to multicultural schools, many of the children say that slices of wholegrain bread with topping (typically cheese, ham, salami or jam) is typical for what their classmates ate. Many of the young informants shrugged, saying that this is just the normal food to eat at school. Meanwhile, most of the young informants say that there is not much focus on what everyone eats among their classmates.

8.3.2 Striving for normality

According to Andersen and colleagues (2015), the packed school lunch represents individualised food eaten together with others. Thus, it is a special form of commensality, which may provoke feelings of sympathy and solidarity between the children for instance through practices of sharing food between classmates, but also pose the risks making one’s social background visible to everyone, which may result in social exclusion. ‘Eating the “right” food is therefore a permission to participate in the commensality of the meal’ (Andersen et al., 2015:409).

The young informants shoulder chugging to a school meal with whole grain sandwich suggests that the packed lunch meal format is considered normal among multicultural young people, who are familiar with various food repertoires (e. g. youth fast food formats, parental/family food formats and peers’ ethnic cuisine). Interestingly, this strict packed school lunch format was most common among the young informants attending rural schools with predominantly majority pupils and those belonging to multi-ethnic schools. Meanwhile, some of the young informants mentioned negative comments and remarks when bringing meals foreign to their classmates. Eleven-year-old David said that when a classmate repeatedly forgot his or her packed lunch, the rest of the class would cry out loudly, ‘Poor’!

A few young people with classmates belonging to the majority population told that packed lunches were more elaborate and thus more challenging to keep up with for low-income immigrant families. Thus, what is established as normal and deviant (school lunch meal) is locally situated (Fernqvist, 2013). For instance, 14-year-old Ulrich’s packed lunch differed significantly from his classmates’ school-meals, to the point that he usually avoided eating it.

Ulrich: I usually bring bread, but… I don’t eat as much… I don’t like…

Interviewer: Why not?

Ulrich: It’s just bread and cheese. […] I don’t feel like eating it, and then I eat if I get really hungry.

When asked what his classmates bring for lunch, Ulrich said that most of them– ‘all of the ones that I look at, at least have dinner leftovers or other “fancy stuff” with them, and if they bring sliced bread, they don’t just have cheese, but something better’. Ulrich’s mother Ursula was unemployed and received financial aid and relied upon receiving food from a food bank. However, Ursula took great pride in providing Ulrich with a packed lunch and thus travelled to Sweden every month amongst other reasons in order to buy cheaper halal meat for her son’s school lunch. Her friend, who translated the interview, told that ‘whatever he wants, she usually buys to put in his lunch. She usually asks what he would like, and he gets that. Of course, it is expensive and tiring to travel to Sweden, but that is what he wants, so she will do everything for the child’. Bringing leftover dinner was not an option for Ulrich, since there was not much to bring and because his mother often made North-Caucasian dishes, which he did not like to eat. The other option for Ulrich is to do as many of his friends and classmates do, buying food or snacks from the shops to eat for school lunch, but he never had any money. Ulrich’s account is a good example of how ethnicity and financial constraints intersect and become problematic to negotiate. When leftover dinner becomes a part of the packed lunch norm among your classmates, who predominantly eat food from the majority food culture, the traditional packed open sandwich with cheese formats turns out to be out of the ordinary. However, bringing leftover minority food cultural dinner dishes in the lunch box would not solve the problem and buying food is not an option. Thus, Ulrich avoids eating at school, and only eats his packed lunch if he gets too hungry or if his classmates treat him with some food from the nearby shop. Children use consumption to connect, to belong and to be full citizens of their social worlds (Pugh, 2011). Ulrich’s account suggests that the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion involve ideas about the normal lunch box and the odd school lunch, which is something ethnic minority children, such as he, in particular negotiate in everyday life (Devine and Kelly, 2006).

8.3.3 The cost of packed school lunches

According to Koctürk-Runefors (1991), the choice of food follows culturally specific hierarchies. For instance, in the Northern European food cultures meat and fish are given higher priority than in Indian kitchen, where vegetables have higher priority. Staple food such as rice, bread, potato and pasta are the kind of food that people rely upon in hard times. The packed school lunch is associated with everyday frugality in Norwegian food culture (Døving, 1999). However, keeping up with the packed lunches norm represents high costs for immigrant families with many children. Typically, East-African families complained about the cost and workload of managing packed lunches. For instance, Nicolas and his family used three breads per day during school days. Nicolas’ mother was responsible for preparing packed lunches for the eight children and for herself the four days per week when she went to Norwegian classes. In order to have nine packed lunches ready, she said she had to get up at half past five. The family spent between NOK 28 and 36 for each bread. For eight children and two parents their food expenses reached NOK 10 000 per month. Thus, the cost of bread amounted to around 15–20 percent of the total food budget.

Thirteen-year-old Emma’s mother, Elaine said that she weekly visited the local food bank to receive ‘for instance, bread. The children need packed lunch everyday’. With an income at 48 percent of median income, Elaine said that receiving food from the food bank ‘helped a lot’. Beatrice, a 14-year-old girl, and her family had been through financial ups and downs, sometimes running out of money for food. Some years ago, ‘I almost ran out of food and I had no money to buy bread’, Beatrice’s mother Belinda said. However, she said that she “was never hungry, in a way. I had… because as I usually do… We had that freezer, and when we have money, we buy [food to put in the freezer]. But it was during the day. We didn’t have bread. We didn’t have milk, like the kids eat for breakfast (Belinda 44, Latin American). George (the 19-year-old brother of 12-year-old Gabriel who helped translating the interview with his parents) gave a similar account. ‘Sometimes we run out of bread and milk, and that makes it a bit difficult for the children. Thus, mom has to borrow money to give us milk and bread.’ George told that his mother borrowed money from friends or used her credit card to pay for food for the children’s packed lunches. She did this ‘because it is important for the children. They go to school’, George explained.

Belinda’s and George’s accounts illustrates that it is food for the children’s packed lunches which is usually affected when families run out of money. Packed lunches, including milk, bread and toppings, rely upon having disposable money, and when running out of money it is the first kind of food that comes in short for families with school-aged children. Besides, the strategy of stocking up on food whenever there is money to spend, does not comply well with the packed lunch requirement since that necessitates fresh bread and toppings to be available at all times.

Additionally, time off the packed lunch norm opens up for relying on familiar meal formats and food repertoires that put a relief on tight food budgets. Susan, a 16-year-old girl, who lived together with five siblings and her parents, spent some lazy summer days together. Her father, Said, told that it was easier to save money during the summer vacations, because the children…

…just eat drink and eat a bit of food, but then… next month school starts, and the children need packed lunches. But when it is summer you can save a bit and you can buy clothes, jackets and stuff. Thus, you can save a bit because you don’t do packed lunches […] Mostly we cook Somalian homemade food which doesn’t cost much, thus you can save a bit (Said, 50).

Keeping up with the packed lunch limits other necessary purchases related to school, such as clothes, jackets and bags. Said’s account thus illustrates that complying with the packed lunch norm, may result in noncompliance with other forms of consumption which are important for young people to connect and to be included among their classmates (Pugh, 2011). In fact, most of the parents in this study, including Said, mentioned the cost of raising young people represented stress in the families. Interestingly, Said’s account demonstrates that the packed lunch represents a comparable contrast to the phenomenon called “holiday hunger” in the UK, which refers to the tendency for children to be unable to access an adequate supply of nutritious food during the school holidays as opposed to being fed free school meals during the school year (Graham et al., 2016:2). In Britain, many households experience increased financial stress during non-term time periods because their food expenses increase (Machin, 2016). With a household income at 52 percent of median income, Said and his family reported spending only NOK 5 200 monthly on food for two adults and six children. In order to make ends meet, the family shopped across the Swedish border at least once a month, but they also reported cutting back on meat, limiting fruit consumption and padding out meals with rice.

Many parents such as Said argued that they managed to feed their children better and more cost efficiently with dishes from their food cultural repertoire, buying cheaper fruit and vegetables at the foreign stores or traveling across the border to Sweden (usually with bus tickets free of charge), buying cheap halal meat. Stocking up on food when there is money to pay for it is an important strategy for low-income immigrant families (Frykholm, 2017).

8.4 Discussion: Packed lunch poverty

Despite attending multicultural schools, a typical Norwegian packed lunch comprising wholegrain bread with a topping (usually cheese, ham, salami or jam) is the norm among the young people participating in this study. This chapter argues that the packed school lunch is a part of the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion taking place in everyday school life. Eating the ‘right’ food not only permits participating in the commensality of the school meal (Andersen et al., 2015:409). It also involves negotiating normality and otherness among ethnic minority children (Devine and Kelly, 2006) who also struggle to handle economic hardship. Thus, complying with the rather strict packed lunch norm among the young people in this study shows that both ethnic and financial constraints are a part of the picture. For instance, Ulrich’s account provides a clear example. Attending school in a less deprived area is more challenging and difficult for him than for the young informants attending schools where the socio-economic status is lower (Fernqvist, 2013: 162–163) and where ethnicity is more heterogenic. Buying lunch is not possible when there is no money to pay for it and bringing leftover minority food in the lunch box is no solution when it differs from the packed lunches of the majority. Moreover, Ulrich’s account reminds us that what is regarded as a normal school lunch menu is locally situated (Fernqvist, 2013).

The packed lunch is something the young persons in this study use to connect, to belong and to be full citizens of their social worlds (Pugh, 2011). Thus, noncompliance to the packed lunch norm may affect social exclusion. This contrasts with the arguments made by Andersen et al. (2015), claiming that served school meals based on New Nordic Diets in a Danish intervention study accentuated differences between ethnic minorities and Danish pupils. Bullying of Muslim children occurred during the lunch break in relation to serving separate meals of pork and veal as well as non-halal and halal slaughtered meat to pupils from different religions (215:407). Thus, the authors find that the packed school lunch is less exclusive than the served school meal.

While many of the young informants shrugged, saying that this is just normal – eat wholegrain bread and topping at school – conforming to the packed school lunch norm only stretches so far. For many of the families, the packed lunch format stops at the family meal, and is thus a public and not a domestic meal. This suggests that the packed lunch format does not coincide with, but comes in addition to family food practices, adding to the cost of feeding the children. As such, time off from the packed lunches during school vacations, reveals a different patterning of food poverty in Norway than the holiday hunger found in the UK, where school children are unable to access an adequate supply of nutritious food during the school holidays since there are no free school meals when the school is closed (Graham et al., 2016:2). Thus, the packed school lunch remains as a ‘public meal’, which for most of the families in this study had not been embedded into the families’ ‘private meal pattern’. Consequently, it isn’t embedded in the family food cultural repertoire of feeding children proper and cost-efficient food. Stocking up on food whenever there is money to spend, represents a different food procurement practice than buying bread, toppings and milk. The latter relies upon having disposable money, and when running out of money, food for the packed lunches is often the first thing that comes in short for low-income immigrant families with school-aged children.

8.5 Conclusion

The Norwegian school meal, the packed lunch, is full of national symbolism of good family life and everyday frugality (Døving, 1999). Meanwhile, for low-income minority families, the packed lunch is far from a frugal way to feed children during the school day. Employing Townsend’s (1979) definition of poverty, this chapter has considered the packed school lunch in Norway as a widely encouraged customary activity, in which the low-income immigrant families in this study struggle to participate. Packed lunches depend on financial resources, which puts significant stress on immigrant families, who often have many children to feed. Thus, the chapter claims that struggling to partake in the Norwegian school meal format based on wholegrain bread with toppings prepared at home constitutes a form of food poverty, a packed lunch poverty, which low-income immigrant families are in particularly vulnerable to. For young people, packed lunch poverty not only restricts children from connecting, belonging and being full members of their social worlds (Pugh, 2011:2). It also threatens to expose ethnic otherness and economic hardship, which young people struggle to negotiate in everyday school life and which cause some young people to go hungry throughout the school day. Packed lunch poverty occurs when there is no money to pay for the school meal, when the cost of the lunch box food heavily affects other household expenses or available food at home deviates from or is foreign to the packed lunch norm.

How can packed lunch poverty be escaped? A solution widely debated in Norway over the last ten years, has been the serving of free meals at school similar to the school meal in Sweden and Finland. Meanwhile, school food programs may exert very strong pressure on minority groups to adapt to majority food norms (Andersen et al., 2015: 410). If political opinion opens for launching a free school meal program in Norway, the program thus needs to include minority food norms on the school menu. Moreover, with an immigrant population at almost 14 percent, if education of ethnic cuisine is included in home economics curriculum, it could increase solidarity and acceptance of various food cultural norms among classmates. Encouraging immigrant families to bring dishes from their food cultural origin to school gatherings or promoting ethnic lunch boxes by the school staff, could widen the school-situated norms of what is the ‘right’ food to eat at school lunches. Meanwhile, adjusting the Child Benefit to the current price levels and providing financial aid supporting all children in large families would help the low-income immigrant families to comply with the packed lunch norm and, thus, enable their children to connect, to belong and be fully included among their classmates.


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Appendix 1: Overview over research participants’ school lunch habits

PseudonymsFrequency of packed lunchesFrequency of buying food at school canteens or nearby shop/food outlet
Aurora (15)Once a week (goes home to eat)Very seldom
Beatrice (13)Four days a weekOnce a week she either buys a yoghurt, chocolate milk or a bun
Cassandra (13)Very seldom (goes home to eat)Has just bought food at the nearby shop during lunch break once
Daniel (12)Always Is not allowed by the school to buy food during the school day since he is in 6-grade.
Eric (14)Very seldom3-4 days a week. Buys hotdogs and cinnamon buns for lunch
Gina (11) and Gemma (9)Always Had bought juice and yoghurt at the school canteen, but it was not something the girls did regularly.
Isaac (12)Usually every day Once a week, he buys a yoghurt with cereal for lunch. He also eats the food they cook in home economics for lunch once a week
Lina (14) & Lucy (16)Twice a week (Lina), Four days a week (Lucy).Lina buys three of five school meals at the school canteen (salads or hot meal), but Lucy buys food at school only once a week (usually a baguette).
Mona (14)Usually Very seldom, since there is no shop close by the school and because she doesn’t like the school canteen
Nicholas (14)1-2 days per weekBuys noodles or iced tea at school 3–4 times per week
Oliva (14)Usually May buy food at the school canteen (noodles) if she forgot the packed food and if she has money.
Patrick (14)Usually Buys either a salad, chicken soup or a waffle at the school canteen, which is open once a week.
Susan (16)Always (as a substitute for breakfast)Sometimes buys a kebab after school if she hasn’t brought a packed lunch, and sometimes buys a bag of crisps if she has eaten a packed lunch.
Ulrich (14)Usually brings a packed lunch but rarely eats it Never buys food at school, but sometimes his classmates buy him something to eat. His classmates either bought food or had leftover dinners/salads in their packed lunches.
Vivian (16)Always Never because she can’t afford it. However, her classmates usually bought food.
Wendy (14)3 days a weekBuys meals (pasta salad) when the school canteen is open two days a week.
Andrew (13)Once a weekHe buys food at the school canteen except when it is closed. He buys fish, tacos, pizza, lasagne, bread and soup.
Connie (16)Always She avoids using money at the school canteen, because she thinks the food is too expensive and would rather save it than spend it on school food
David (11)Always There is no school canteen and it is forbidden to leave the school premises (for instance to go and buy food at the shop)
Emma (13)Always Buys food at the school canteen, which is open once a week.
Filip (12)Always There is no canteen at the school.
Gabriel (12)Always There is no canteen at the school.
Peter (15)Seldom Ask his mother for lunch money (NOK20–40) Buys food at the shop close to school (tangerine and buns)
Rick (17)Always He never buys food at school, and refuses to join his class on school trips if it means spending money
Timothy (14)Always Money for chocolate milk once a week
Victor (14)Always Never bought food at the school canteen.
Wilma (13)Always Brings money to buy kebab, pastries, chocolate milk at nearby shops three times a week.

Appendix 2: Overview of research participants and their background

Living areaEthnicityPseudonyms and age Marri-age status 1 Work status 2 Income in percent of median Food exp. in percent of income 3 Parent arrival year 6 Young person arrival yearNo children in househ. Dimension of food poverty (Parents)
Qual 7 F. B. 8 Quan 9
Urban, OsloMiddle-EasternAurora(15)MH67251979Born2---
Wilma (13)MH/W485 35199920034---
East-AfricanLina(14) & Lucy(16)MH/H274 291989Born5x
Oliva(14)SE375 502000Born4x
Victor(14)SP555 35200620064x
North-CaucasianUlrich(14)SH304 What’s left200620061x
Vivian(16)SH7510 20200120014x
Central AsianPeter(15)MWP46141999Born5---
Rural Eastern NorwayCentral AsianConnie(16)MH/H214 23201020101x
East-AfricanGina(11) & Gemma(9)SH4750201120143x
South-AmericanTimothy SH62261988Born3x

1 M=married/cohabitant, S=single parent

2 W=working fulltime, WP=working part time, E=in school/course etc., H=home (unemployed, disabled, home with children etc.), P=praxis/work assessment

3 Average food expenditure is 11% of income in Norway.

4 Housing expenses paid by NAV

5 Housing expenses partly paid by NAV

6 When first or both parents first moved to Norway

7 Lacking food quality and/or variation (e g. eating less meat, fish, fruit and/or vegetables to reduce food expenses, eating starchy food (rice, pasta, bread, potatoes etc.) as a substitute)

8 Attending food bank at least monthly

9 Running out of food, eating less (for instance at the end of the month)

10 Housing cost amounts to 63 percent of income

1The study, Families and Food in Hard Times, was funded by the European Research Council.

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