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Meal and snacking patterns of school-aged children in Scotland



Current lifestyles and the choice and availability of foods may influence the eating patterns of children. The aim of this study was to investigate the meal and snacking patterns of school-aged children in Scotland.


A sub-sample of 156 children (5–17 years) from the national Survey of Sugar Intake among Children in Scotland completed a 4-day non-weighed diet diary. Meals and snacks were defined using a food-based classification system based on ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ foods. The first eating event containing a solid food item up to and including 0900 hours (1100 hours on weekend days) was defined as breakfast. Frequency of meal and snack consumption was compared between age, sex, body mass index (BMI) and socio-economic sub-groups, between term-time and school holidays and between weekdays and weekend days. Intakes of total fat, saturated fatty acids (SFA) and non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES) on these days were also compared.


Children ate a median of 3.3 meals plus 2.0 snacks per day, which did not vary between age and BMI groups. In all, 83% of children ate breakfast on all 4 days. Boys ate more meals than girls but the number of snacks was similar. Children from lower socio-economic groups tended to eat more meals and fewer snacks. Snacks accounted for 21% of the total daily energy intake, 22% of total fat, 24% of SFA and 39% of NMES intake. Daily intake of energy, total fat, SFA and NMES did not differ between term-time and holidays or weekdays and weekend days.


Children tended to follow a traditional pattern of three meals a day, which was consistent between age and BMI subgroups and between school term-time and holidays.

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We would like to acknowledge the statistical advice from Dr Lorna Aucott of the University of Aberdeen. This study was funded by the Food Standards Agency, Scotland.

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Correspondence to J Macdiarmid.

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Contributors: JM designed the study, statistical analysis and drafted the manuscript. JL carried out the literature review and statistical analysis and contributed to the preparation of the manuscript. LC contributed to the design of the study, statistical analysis and preparation of the manuscript. LM contributed to the design of the study and preparation of the manuscript. BH contributed to the preparation of the manuscript. GM contributed to the design of the study and preparation of the manuscript.

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Macdiarmid, J., Loe, J., Craig, L. et al. Meal and snacking patterns of school-aged children in Scotland. Eur J Clin Nutr 63, 1297–1304 (2009).

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  • children
  • meals
  • snacks
  • breakfast
  • non-milk extrinsic sugars
  • saturated fatty acids

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