Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

David Himmelgreen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roberta Baer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Carol Bryant, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Claudia Parvanta, Ph.D.


children, friendship, kids’ food, afterschool programs, ethnography


This study investigates children’s peer culture, social networks and the role that kids’ food plays in peer exchanges during middle childhood. During this stage children develop social competencies as they join peer groups with other children and become socialized into children’s peer culture. In order to immerse myself within children’s culture, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork at two afterschool programs providing care for elementary school children. I investigated friendships, social networks and exchanges among third through fifth grade children at the programs. The study included participant observation and participatory group interviews with a sample of the children at both sites. The findings reveal how children use exchange of snack foods, candy and toys to build social connections among peers. The results indicate that children are active participants and creators in their peer cultures. They manipulated adult norms to structure oppositional identities as children. One tool for identifying with peers and gaining social acceptance are kids’ foods, which are processed food items marketed for children. Kids’ food served as a form of social currency in expressing friendship and connection. For the children in this study, food provided for edible consumption, entertainment and symbolic connection to peers. The results of this research demonstrate the need to approach child nutrition promotion from a cultural and social view point of children, not only based on physical and health motivation.