In this study the food habits of schoolchildren aged 11-15 years in three primary schools in Manzini, Swaziland were described and explored. Their eating patterns and the composition of their meals during the week and over weekends, together with their familiarity, consumption and preference rating of selected traditional foods were established. The school meal programme and other aspects of the school food environment were also included as part of the study.
As there is limited information on the food habits of Swazi people in general, and no recent information available on the food habits of Swaziland’s primary schoolchildren, this study has contributed to filling a gap in the literature. Studies done in other sub-Saharan African countries on the food habits of schoolchildren have reported changes in their dietary intake due to migration, urbanisation, modernisation and Westernisation, processes also found in this country’s history. This explorative and descriptive cross-sectional study is deductive in nature and followed a quantitative research design. A self-administered, pre-tested survey questionnaire consisting of closed and open-ended questions was developed and completed by 300 Grade 5, 6 and 7 primary schoolchildren to determine their eating and consumption patterns.
The results reflect a change in daily meal patterns from the traditional two meals to the Western-orientated eating pattern of three meals a day with in-between-meal snacking. In-between meal snacking was more common during the week than over weekends. For the majority of the respondents breakfast consisted of either bread or a soft porridge prepared from sorghum or maize meal and tea. Lunch and supper meals were markedly predominantly stiff maize meal porridge served with a legume dish, meat stew or a vegetable relish. Rice is increasingly being eaten for lunch (25%) and supper (35%). Both healthy and unhealthy food and beverage choices were consumed as in-between-meal snacks. This, together with the reported low vegetable, fruit and milk consumption by the majority, is a matter of concern.
Most of the selected traditional foods and dishes listed were familiar and consumed by the majority of the respondents. Although some traditional foods and dishes received a low preference rating, the children preferred most of those listed with the exception, as could be expected, of the bitter tasting green leafy vegetables. Concerning the school food environment, results revealed that the majority brought money to purchase food items from vendors during break-times. With the exception of fruit and fruit juice, most of the food items for sale were products with a high fat, sugar or sodium content. Most of the respondents participated in the school meal programme. Although the schoolchildren were satisfied with the meals served, they could not be regarded as nutritionally adequate.
This study not only provided empirical data on the food habits of this group of Swazi schoolchildren, but also gave valuable insights into the school food environment. The important role of the school environment in promoting healthy eating was once again confirmed. Based on the findings of this study recommendations and guidelines to promote healthy eating in Swaziland’s primary schools were formulated.
Dissertation (MConsumer Science)--University of Pretoria, 2015.