In many schools, students don’t have enough time to eat lunch

4 Dec

Moi wrote about the limited amount of time some students get to eat lunch in Do kids get enough time to eat lunch? Given the amount that must be packed into the school day, it is no surprise that the lunch period often get short shrift.

Eric Westervelt of NPR reported in the story, These Days, School Lunch Hours Are More Like 15 Minutes:

The school lunch hour in America is a long-gone relic. At many public schools today, kids are lucky to get more than 15 minutes to eat. Some get even less time.
And parents and administrators are concerned that a lack of time to eat is unhealthful, especially given that about one-third of American kids are overweight or obese.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that students get at least 20 minutes for lunch. But that means 20 minutes to actually sit down and eat — excluding time waiting in line or walking from class to cafeteria.
At Oakland High, over 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And officially, students get about 40 minutes for the meal. But Jennifer LeBarre, Oakland Unified School District’s nutrition services director, admits that the actual table time is far shorter. At times it’s just 10 minutes….
Oakland High is hardly alone. In a wide-ranging new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, 20 percent of parents of students from kindergarten through fifth grade surveyed said their child only gets 15 minutes or less to eat.
Ironically, relatively new federal school-nutrition guideline changes may be making the situation worse. Under federal rules, schools have to increase the availability and consumption of fruits and vegetables — among other changes. It’s part of an effort to improve nutrition and combat childhood obesity.
But eating more healthful foods can take more time, LeBarre says. “It’s going to take longer to eat a salad than it will to eat french fries.”
At many schools, lunch schedules aren’t changing. Julia Bauscher, who is president of a national advocacy group called the School Nutrition Association, says administrators are under intense pressure to increase instruction time and boost standardized test scores. The lunch period is often the first place they look to steal time.
“[They’ve] got to get in this many instructional minutes, and this is our expected annual yearly progress on the test,” she says. “You’ve got two important and competing priorities there.”
Exacerbating the time crunch, nationally, is the reality that more students are taking part in the free or reduced-cost school lunch programs. Many schools are now adding free dinners as well under a new USDA dinner program launched this year. Bauscher is also the nutrition services director for Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky. She says in her area, 70 percent of the students are participating in meals programs — including free dinners for some.
“We’ve got a higher number of students eligible for free and reduced meals than ever. So as more of them take advantage of those programs, you get longer food lines,” she says.
Some possible solutions — such as adding lunch periods, more food stations or service workers or lengthening lunchtimes — can be costly. And many budget-strapped schools today simply don’t want to risk the added price….


Effects of Changes in Lunch-Time Competitive Foods, Nutrition Practices, and Nutrition Policies on Low-Income Middle-School Children’s Diets
To cite this article:
Katherine Alaimo, Shannon C. Oleksyk, Nick B. Drzal, Diane L. Golzynski, Jennifer F. Lucarelli, Yalu Wen, and Ellen M. Velie. Childhood Obesity. -Not available-, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/chi.2013.0052.
Online Ahead of Print: November 11, 2013
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Author information
Katherine Alaimo, PhD,1 Shannon C. Oleksyk, MS, RD,2 Nick B. Drzal, MS, RD,3 Diane L. Golzynski, PhD, RD,3 Jennifer F. Lucarelli, PhD,4 Yalu Wen, PhD,5 and Ellen M. Velie, PhD5
1Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.
2Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Lansing, MI.
3Michigan Department of Education, Lansing, MI.
4School of Health Sciences, Oakland University, Rochester, MI.
5Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.
Address correspondence to:
Katherine Alaimo, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Michigan State University
208C G.M. Trout FSHN Building
469 Wilson Road
East Lansing, MI 48824-1224
Background: The School Nutrition Advances Kids project tested the effectiveness of school-initiated and state-recommended school nutrition practice and policy changes on student dietary intake in low-income middle schools.
Methods: Schools recruited by an application for grant funding were randomly assigned to (1) complete an assessment of nutrition education, policies, and environments using the Healthy School Action Tools (HSAT) and implement an action plan, (2) complete the HSAT, implement an action plan, and convene a student nutrition action team, (3) complete the HSAT and implement an action plan and a Michigan State Board of Education nutrition policy in their cafeteria à la carte, or (4) a control group. All intervention schools were provided with funding and assistance to make self-selected nutrition practice, policy, or education changes. Block Youth Food Frequency Questionnaires were completed by 1176 seventh-grade students from 55 schools at baseline and during eighth-grade follow-up. Nutrient density and food group changes for the intervention groups were compared to the control group, controlling for baseline dietary intake values, gender, race/ethnicity, school kitchen type, urbanization, and percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Analyses were conducted by randomization and based on changes the schools self-selected.
Results: Improvements in students’ nutrient density and food group intake were found when schools implemented at least three new nutrition practice changes and established at least three new nutrition policies. Students in schools that introduced mostly healthful foods in competitive venues at lunch demonstrated the most dietary improvements.
Conclusions: New USDA nutrition standards for à la carte and vending will likely increase the healthfulness of middle school children’s diets.

The Journal of Child Nutrition and Management published the 2002 study, How Long Does it Take Students to Eat Lunch? A Summary of Three Studies by Martha T. Conklin, PhD, RD; Laurel G. Lambert, PhD, RD, LD; and Janet B. Anderson, MS, RD:

How long did it take K-12 students to eat? School children took an average of 7 to 10 minutes to consume their lunch. Some students, however, required less time, while others needed more. Sanchez, Hoover, Sanchez, et al. (1999) reported that 39%, 27%, and 20% of students in elementary, middle, and high schools, respectively, took longer than 10 minutes to consume their lunch. We suggest school foodservice directors read the research articles generated by these studies to consider the entire spectrum of data collected (Bergman et al., 2000; Sanchez, Hoover, Sanchez, et al., 1999). In school districts where the scheduled lunch period is a contested issue, the only way school foodservice directors could know precisely whether this average reflects students in their program is to conduct a time study using similar methods. The procedures to follow for conducting such a time study have been published (Sanchez, Hoover, Cater, et al., 1999).
Eating time encompasses only the physical act of eating and drinking. This time did not seem to relate to the age of students, size of the school district, complexity of the menu, length of the lunch period, serving styles, holding students at the table, or scheduling recess prior to the meal period (Table 1). An earlier study found that the timing of recess was associated with reduced plate waste, particularly with boys, when physical activities were scheduled prior to lunch (Getlinger, Laughlin, Bell, Akre, & Arjmandi, 1996). As shown in Figure 1, the researchers found that in one elementary school (EUT1) that scheduled recess prior to lunch, the averaged the same amount of time to eat. Because the time studies did not record plate waste, we can only assume students may have eaten more in the same amount of time, or the timing of recess may not have made a difference in consumption patterns with this group of elementary students.
Non-eating or socializing at the table was the most variable time among the schools, and not surprisingly, the amount of time spent in these activities seemed to change directly with the length of the lunch period. These acts included arranging the tray or food, eating, talking, laughing, and other types of social interaction with friends at the table. School foodservice directors could minimize the time used by students in arranging the food for eating by evaluating the manner in which condiments are packaged for ease of use. This would be especially important for elementary students (Sanchez, Hoover, Sanchez, et al., 1999).
Socializing is an important aspect of dining because allowing students sufficient time to relate to others provides a break in routine and refreshes them for afternoon classes. This may be the reason why members of the Partnership to Promote Healthy Eating in Schools mentioned the importance of enjoying meals with friends as a vital component of healthy eating (American Academy of Family Physicians et al., 2000). Perhaps if students were given at least a 20-minute period at the table, as recommended by food and nutrition professionals (USDA, 2000), both eating and socializing activities could be accommodated for the average individual.
If 20 minutes at the table were the goal, then school foodservice directors would need to factor in the following: average travel time to the cafeteria; time for service, including travel to the eating area; and bussing of trays after the meal to yield an ideal lunch period. The service aspect is the one element a school foodservice director can most directly influence. In this research, the bussing of trays consistently averaged under one minute, even for elementary students, but the average service time per student varied from approximately three minutes to slightly over eight minutes (Figure 1). Among the factors that positively influence service time are:
o the number of serving lines;
o whether all food choices are available on each line;
o training of service staff and cashiers to provide efficient service;
o the designation of a “runner” to replenish food on the line (Nettles & Conklin, 1996); and
an automated point of sales system.
School foodservice directors should carefully review each of these areas to determine whether service efficiency could be improved, especially if doing so will enable students to enjoy their lunch for at least 20 minutes at the table.
If 20 minutes at the table represents 78% of the meal period (Figure 2), a goal for the entire time students spend in the cafeteria would be at least 26 minutes. This would allow four minutes for travel to and from the cafeteria in a 30-minute lunch period. Although this calculation is based strictly on averages, a school foodservice director could use this type of logic in documenting an ideal lunch period with school administrators.

Bradley and Ritter argue that shorter lunch times do not feed the needs of the “whole child.”

In order to ensure that ALL children have a basic education, we must take a comprehensive approach to learning.

A healthy child in a healthy family who attends a healthy school in a healthy neighborhood ©


School dinner programs: Trying to reduce the number of hungry children

School lunches: The political hot potato

The government that money buys: School lunch cave in by Congress

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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