Sixth Graders Write Op-Ed to Protest 10-Minute Lunch Period

by Bettina Elias Siegel on April 19, 2012

A lot of you sent me yesterday a link to a Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial written by two sixth graders to protest Minneapolis’s public schools’ 15-minute lunch period which, according to the girls, actually amounts to 10 or 11 minutes in practice.

Talia Bradley and Antonia Ritter do an excellent job outlining the potential role a rushed lunch period might play in childhood obesity, eating disorders, indigestion and lack of concentration in the classroom (when kids can’t finish lunch or simply forego lunch to have time to converse with friends).

I’m reminded of a popular Lunch Tray guest post published last September by Chris Liebig, an Iowa City parent who wrote about “The Incredible Shrinking Lunch Period” in his own district.   That piece was quite depressing;  I still can’t get out of my head this image, shared with Chris by a fellow Iowa City parent:

[my son’s] class filed in the lunch room in full winter gear, boots, snow pants, and coats zipped with their hats and gloves shoved down the inside. We were told that there was no time to get dressed for recess so they had to sit and not only eat very quickly but do so while roasting. It still upsets me to think about.

(By the way, Chris has his own post up today about the Minneapolis girls’ op-ed.)

Meanwhile, blogger Karen Le Billion (author of French Kids Eat Everything, to be reviewed on TLT soon), tells us that in France, school children are routinely given between one and a half to two hours for lunch, with a minimum of thirty minutes devoted to eating.  In a subsequent post she added:

Learning doesn’t stop in the lunchroom, in my opinion. If we are giving our children a slow 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, but eat less–in part because that ‘fullness feeling’ (satiety signal) needs about 20 minutes to get from your stomach to your brain. But the French also spend longer eating because they believe that it’s important to teach kids to eat well – it’s a life skill, like reading.

Of course, American schools aren’t forcing kids to wolf down food because they’re sadistic or uncaring.  Many schools face very real logistical issues such as overcrowding, inadequate facilities and the labor costs of adequately staffing a lunch room so more kids can eat in the lunchroom at a given time.

On the other hand, if eating with any sense of leisure — and eating well — were of primary cultural importance in this country, we’d likely see more federal funding provided to school districts to help them carry out both of those goals.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Bettina Elias Siegel

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenny J April 19, 2012 at 8:34 am

Your comments about eating as a life skill suggest it would be useful if schools could integrate learning into the lunch period, as many schools have done for outdoor/nature and garden work as well. Then perhaps it would be easier to make more time in the school day for lunch.

But I know what intense pressure the public schools are under–it’s challenging to get everything in.

Reply

EdT. April 19, 2012 at 11:32 am

Nice thought… but how do you answer a multiple-choice question with a celery stick? Or even a chicken nugget, for that matter?

~EdT.

Reply

Tammy April 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

I totally agree! I am often dismayed at the amount of time these kids get to eat. I pack my sons lunch not only becuase I don’t like what the schools serve but also because I know that if I did’t my son would spend half of his lunch time in line to purchase food leaving very littel time to actually eat his lunch! It’s sad for the kids who don’t have a choice! It really does teach poor food habits from youth!

Reply

EdT. April 19, 2012 at 11:41 am

These kids are smart. Nothing irks me (not even the pro-LFTB trolls [as opposed to the pro-LFTB commentators who kept it civil, which didn’t irk me at all] that were infesting this board in the last month or so) as much as the idea that our children shouldn’t be allowed more than enough time to aspirate their food, before being marched off to the next pre-test pre-testing drill for the test… I have eaten lunch – at school – under both the European and American models, and the European model really does make for a more alert, more attentive, less zonked-out student body.

I don’t know that Federal funds are the answer to this issue, though: a good place to start, would be to take a look at the school day, and how time is allotted. My guess it is allotted so as to permit classes to start/end on certain time boundaries (e.g. on the hour), and so to accommodate multiple seatings (normally 3-4), the amount of time per “seating” is pared down to between 15 and 30 minutes. Maybe we could do with one less pre-test timed drill per day, and reallocate the time saved to the lunch period?

Just a thought…

~EdT.

Reply

Lauren April 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Good grief! However, I have two points to make:
1) I went to high school in Minnesota, and we did receive thirty minutes to eat. I’m not sure what the length was for the younger students in our school, but 7-12, at least, was thirty minutes.
2) At the school I’m student teaching at now (in South Dakota), the students receive 40 minutes for lunch. How great is that?

Reply

Maggie April 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Along with changes to the food, yes, there do need to be changes such as this. Still, as is pointed out, it can come down to funding, scheduling (changes to busing and so on). I’m not sure what it might take to get administration to make these changes.

It is sad to think of what is going to happen next year with the new regulation changes, larger servings of the food types that are more healthful, but still no time to eat. Just changing the food isn’t going to be enough.

Reply

Veggievangelist April 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I’m a little confused by the article written by the girls. It says that they go to a Montessori school and yet, they’re writing about Minneapolis schools, which I take to be the public schools. Is the Montessori school part of their public school system (if so, I’d love to move up there!)?

Our school allots 30 minutes for students to go through the line and eat their food. With almost 1200 students though (this is elementary school), the lunch periods start in the 10 AM hour, continuing into the 1 PM hour. So, we are asked to have our children bring a “healthy snack” to supplement their meal, whether brought from home or bought in the cafeteria. Then, the boys come home at close to three looking for an afternoon snack. It’s the near-constant eating that makes me crazy.

Reply

Bettina Elias Siegel April 20, 2012 at 10:13 am

Veggievangelist: I was confused for a second, too, but here in Houston we do have a few public Montessori schools. And here in Houston, my kids get around 30 minutes also, but like you, we have to start very early in the morning to make that happen. It’s a hard trade-off.

Reply

Karen Le Billon April 21, 2012 at 1:51 am

Great post Bettina. French schools finish later; school starts at 9 and finishes at 5 (from grade 1 onwards). Lunch typically runs from 12:30 to 2, and in schools where the ‘cantine’ is crowded (so that they have to have two seatings), it might even run from 12 to 2. They sit and eat for a minimum of 30 minutes. Games and interactive activities are usually available to the kids the rest of the lunch break.

The French think this is practical for a few reasons: (i) it gives kids enough time to eat and digest their most important meal of the day; (ii) it gives teachers a proper break (they get a three or four course freshly prepared lunch (often the same thing the kids are eating) in a separate lunchroom!); (iii) the school day is more aligned with the workday (part of support that the French give to families (and particularly working mothers), with the result that France has the highest fertility rate in Western Europe). Kids have Wednesdays off for after-school activities, which they do during the day (kids of two working parents go to school, or the adjacent community centre, but do sports, music, etc.).

Because food is a priority, the French have structured their school day this way. I’m not saying we need to organize our school day like they do. But it is interesting to ask: what would our children’s school day look like if healthy eating was a priority?

Reply

Maggie April 21, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I like Karen’s question about what a school day might look like if healthful eating was a priority.

It also sent my thoughts in a little different direction. The school day and meals in France are matched to their society’s values. It seems to me that maybe part of the reason we are struggling so much to change school meals to a more healthful state is that we are fighting our (United States) food values…overly marketed, quickly prepared, quickly eaten on the run meals.

We can change the foods, but without a change to other aspects and to some degree, a change to society, it seems like an uphill climb.

Granted, I do think more people are seeing that changes need to happen everywhere along the food & supply chain, and school food is a great place to push that along & educate children, but…we’ll (school meal programs) need support while those changes (which do need to include both the food and surrounding aspects like the length of meal times) “take hold” and the majority of people see the value.

Reply

Liz - Meal Makeover Mom April 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I am working with my school district on an updated Wellness Policy (I co-wrote the first policy back in 2006). One issue I’m advocating for is a longer school lunch break. I’d be happy with five extra minutes (the kids currently get 20 minutes). Our food service director has gathered data to determine the amount of time kids have to “eat” when they wait in line to purchase a lunch. Clearly, they don’t have the full 20 minutes. I’ll report back on our progress. Cross your fingers I can get 5 MORE MINUTES! Having more time will allow the kids to get the calories and nutrients they need to thrive during the school day.

Reply

Bettina Elias Siegel April 24, 2012 at 8:17 am

Liz: I do wish you luck — so sad that 5 more minutes is such a struggle. Let us know what happens.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: