Dr Kamena Henshaw is a lecturer in Psychology. She joined the UEA in 2007 as an Associate Tutor for the BSc in Psychology and was awarded a UEA teaching studentship in 2009 to carry out her PhD research. Dr Henshaw was awarded her PhD in February 2014 and became a Chartered Member (CPsychol) of the BPS in April 2014.  She is also a member of the Division for Teachers and Researchers in Psychology.

“I really enjoy teaching at the University of East Anglia and love the atmosphere on campus. I feel lucky to be part of an excellent teaching team, which places great emphasis on the student experience, alongside the importance of research, and community engagement. I believe psychology is an amazing subject to study and I strive to ensure my teaching is always interactive and engaging by constantly evaluating my methods and approach. With my research I am very interested in applying psychological knowledge to real life settings, particularly in relation to family life.”

Key Research Interests


Family mealtimes: the meanings of this routine from a multi-person perspective

Brief outline of research background: There continues to be a wide range of interdisciplinary research on the relationship between food and family life with a particular focus on the ‘family meal’.  A large number of quantitative research projects have claimed a strong link between family meals and: child and adolescent health (Eisenberg, Olson, Neumark-Sztainer, Story, & Bearinger, 2004, Gillman et al., 2000); obesity (Gable, Chang, & Krull, 2007; Taveras et al., 2005); and higher academic achievement (Spagnola & Fiese, 2007). Researchers have also claimed an association between regular family meals and lower levels of high risk behaviours in adolescence, such as unprotected sexual activity, binge drinking, smoking and drug use (Eisenberg, Neumark-Sztainer, Fulkerson, & Story, 2008).

Despite the methodological limitations of these research designs (often self-report measures, with poorly defined concepts, reliant on correlational data), these research findings are highlighted to reinforce the powerful ideology around the family meal ideal.  The daily family meal is presented as the aspiration for all families to live up to – home cooked food, eaten around the dining table, with all family members present.  Little attention is given to the fluid nature of the term ‘family’ or the differing interpretations of a ‘proper meal’.  Thus when claims are made regarding the decline of the family meal (often based on empirically weak market research or misquoted papers such as McIntosh et al 2010 quoting Murcott, 1997), moral panics often follow ('Families drift apart if they don't eat together' Independent on Sunday 30th July 2006).  The decline in family meals is often blamed on individualised, fragmented lifestyles, frequently linked with maternal employment, threatening the very fabric of family life, as ‘the family meal’ has become synonymous with ‘the family’.

More recently a body of qualitative work has emerged (Backett-Milburn et al 2010, Owen et al 2010, Kime 2008), which focuses on the meanings of food and food practices in the family home, with an awareness of the powerful ideology around the family meal. My research aims to add to this emerging body of work by exploring different family members’ perspectives of mealtime routines and to understand how individual and family meanings are created around this daily routine.  The extent to which family members co-construct this experience and create a meal is a mixture of individual agency and social structure. Thus when individuals eat in a family group they behave and interact in particular ways, both as an individual and as part of a social group, and they experience a variety of emotional feelings. This study conceptualises these behaviours and feelings as a form of ‘family process’ (Day 2010) and aims to conduct an in-depth exploration of the family processes connected to family meals, both from the individual and family perspective.

Historically, research on food and families has primarily utilised maternal accounts with little attention given to generational or gender perspectives (Metcalfe et al 2009). This research aims to address this gender and generational imbalance by exploring multiple perspectives (from mothers and fathers and young people).

Research aims and questions:

This research is primarily interested in exploring the meanings and understandings the different family members have of family meals. Thus the research aims to:

  1. Explore the underlying family processes within the family meal
  2. Compare and contrast the different family members perceptions of family meals (both within and between families)
  3. Understand the family symbolism linked to the family meal
  4. Explore the themes of gender and family role in relation to the family meal

The primary research question is ‘How do the different family members perceive the underlying family processes that occur during the family meal?’ The research will focus on both the similarities and differences within family accounts (between mother, father and young person) and also the similarities and differences between family accounts (that is between the mothers, the fathers and the young people).

Design A mixed methods research strategy was adopted to explore meals eaten in the family home from the perspectives of different family members.  A sample of twelve family groups, with a 14-15 year old young person, was recruited through questionnaire surveys carried out in three schools in market and seaside towns.  In-depth separate home-based interviews were conducted with individuals in the twelve family groups, consisting of fourteen young people, eleven mothers and twelve fathers.  The interviews explored a number of areas, including: attitudes and feelings about food and meals, attitudes and feelings about food provisioning and cooking, perceptions of the mealtime environment (including family interactions, relationships and communication), childhood memories of meals, and environmental influences on mealtime routines.

Young people were given a digital camera before the family interviews commenced, with the instruction to take photographs of ‘the food and meals eaten in your home’. These images were copied and re-presented in each subsequent interview with the young person and parents to elicit reflection on how food and meals were organised in the daily life of the family. All interviews were transcribed and thematically analysed through NVIVO, in the context of families as groups and as individuals. Over two hundred photographs were collected and explored using content analysis.

Research stage: The questionnaire data was gathered from three high schools between May and July 2011.  The family interviews began in June 2011 and were completed in January 2012.  The individual interviews are now being coded and thematically analysed. An abstract has been submitted to the BSA Food & Society conference in July 2012 on the power of the visual images and the relationship between the visual data and the spoken interviews.

Early findings: The early findings, focusing on the role of the visual images, suggest that “family talk” about the young people’s selected visual images often mirror significant family processes, such as how individuals create and signify autonomy, togetherness, caring, distance and myth in families.  The visual images included: photographs of location and context of family meals; the presence or absence of family members; and food typically eaten, or not eaten, by different family members.

Backett-Milburn, K., Wills, W., Roberts, M. & Lawton, J. (2010). Food and family practices: teenagers, eating and domestic life in differing socio-economic circumstances.  Children’s Geographies, 8 (3), 303-314.

Jackson, P. (2009).  Changing Families, Changing Food. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kime, N. (2008). Children's eating behaviours: the importance of the family setting.  AREA, 40 (3), 315-322.

Murcott, A. (1997).  Family meals – a thing of the past? In Caplan, P. (ed) Food, health and identity.  London: Routledge.

Owen, J., Metcalfe, A., Dryden, C. & Shipton, G. (2010). ‘If they don’t eat it, it’s not a proper meal’: Images of risk and choice in fathers’ accounts of family food practices. Health, Risk & Society, 12 (4), 395-406.


Professor Margaret O’Brien

Dr Neil Cooper

Teaching Interests

BSc (Hons) Psychology


Level 1

Psychology of the Individual (Personality and Individual Differences)

Core seminar programme co-ordinator

Level 2

Core seminar programme co-ordinator

Level 3

Psychosocial Perspectives on Family Life (Module Leader)

Final year project supervision

Key Responsibilities

Student Partnership Officer