Making Time For Lunch

Written by Marcie Morton, mother of Chloe Sobelman Rm. 20

Since the start of this school year, I’ve found my daughter to be distracted by hunger each day when I pick her up from school even though I’ve packed her plenty to eat. Additionally, I’ve heard grumblings about a shorter than ever lunch break and extra structure around where and how long the kids are allowed to eat. The consensus from the kids I’ve surveyed is they prefer the lunchtime freedom of past years.

For my own child, I’ve responded by packing smaller portions of more nutritionally dense items that can be consumed quickly - similar to what an endurance athlete might take on a long trek. My intuition, however, tells me this isn’t a good long term fix for her attitudes around eating or overall well being. One nutritionist’s perspective, “If we are giving our children a short lunch break, we are teaching them that food is an inconvenience, and eating is an interruption in the day. We encourage them to gobble their food, when the research shows that eating more slowly is healthier. In fact, the French spend longer eating... because they believe it’s important to teach kids to eat well – it’s a life skill like reading.”

This week, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published an article (online September 11, 2015 - http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672(15)01248-4/abstract), which indicated I’m not alone in my concern over my child’s rushed lunch break at school. Apparently it’s a troubling trend around the country with plenty of ongoing discussion. Some of the findings:

  • Kids rushed through lunch throw out more food and consume less healthy foods.
  • Students were significantly less likely to grab a piece of fruit if they had less than 20 minutes to eat, compared with kids who got at least 25 minutes for lunch.
  • Children with less time were also less likely to finish their entree, vegetable or milk.

We all understand the importance of maximizing on academic instruction during the school day, but lunch breaks shouldn’t be compromised for this purpose. Hungry kids don’t concentrate, which means these extra minutes stolen from lunchtime are wasted. A high school in Baltimore recently implemented an integrated approach for addressing their time constraints, and the response from students and teachers alike has been positive. It’s a 50-minute lunch period that gives students time to eat, socialize, finish up homework or get personalized attention from teachers. What creative and progressive ideas might the West Portal community come up with for addressing our current lunchtime challenge?

[Editor's Note: We applaud Marcie Morton for coming forth to our community with her concerns.  We want you to know that everyone from the West Portal Elementary School community is welcome to submit articles to our website for publication on topics relevant to us all.

As a result of Ms. Morton's concerns and similar ones coming from other parents, the Board of the West Portal Parents Club is currently discussing this matter with Mr. Lucey and Ms. Walter.  If you would like to add your perspective to this conversation, please either write to the Community Forum at community@WestPortalSchool.com, comment on the post on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WestPortalSchool, or write to the Board directly at board@WestPortalSchool.com.]

References: 

Kids Rushed Through Lunch Throw Out More Food, Reuters Health, Wednesday Sept 16 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/16/us-health-schoollunch-idUSKCN0RG2T220150916

Cutting short lunch time in school may lead to obesity, USA Today, Aug 17 2011, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/wellness/story/2011/08/Students-feel-rushed-at-school-lunch/50027612/1

Longer Lunches More Options, Baltimore Sun, Oct 3 2008, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2008-02-03/news/0802010313_1_lunch-period-arundel-high-school-cafeteria

Longer Lunches, Smarter Students? http://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/longer-lunches-smarter-students-the-controversy-of-10-minute-or-1-hour-lunch-periods

Short Lunch Periods Don't Serve Students' Needs, Sept 11, 2015, Harvard Gazette: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/09/short-lunch-periods-dont-serve-students-needs/