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.