Today I made a surprise visit to my 1st grader at his shool during lunchtime. While he was so happy to see me and his little brother, I kept thinking about how little time the students get to eat. Lunch is set at 20 minutes, no more. And they’ve been arriving late to lunch (they go as a class) according to my son. At first I was dubious as to his truthfulness and perhaps thought that the reason half his lunch was coming home was because he was anxious to get to recess, but today I witnessed first hand how it went down.
I arrived at the front desk check in at 12:41 thinking that my 2 year old and I had better hurry since lunch starts promptly at 12:40pm. We started briskly walking towards the 1st grade class, which is on the way to the lunchroom, but then we saw that the class was still en route walking together to the lunchroom. Hmmmmm. We arrived at the lunchroom at 12:46. The kids now have 14 minutes left in their lunchtime. This is one reason I pack a lunch from home, to gain more eating time. I’m pretty sure that by the time the kids without home packed lunches sat down (after waiting to buy lunch) they had 10 minutes or less to eat. Gulp.
I understand that there may be reasons for why kids would only have 20 minutes to eat. For one, our lunchroom is incredibly small and so each grade has a separate lunchtime (we live in Minnesota – no eating outside for most of the year!). But my worries are hovering around the following questions. What are we teaching our children in regards to healthy eating habits? A school is place for learning, and not just academics. We could use the lunchroom to teach healthy eating habits (chewing your food properly, not talking with a mouth full of pizza, sitting and talking with friends leisurely, etc) instead of encouraging scarfing down food, not eating to satiety because lunch is over abruptly, etc). When I was in nutrition school, I remember learning the Japanese phrase, “hara hachi bu” (forgive my spelling!) which means “eat until two thirds full”. The Japanese were wise to know before science that it takes a bit of time for the stomach to tell the brain that satiety has been reached. But you can’t learn that if you are cramming food down your gullet just to get enough in there before lunch is over! The kids I saw weren’t even sitting for one minute after finishing eating. They were dismissed to the playground, rapidly packed up their half eaten food and raced off. Hmmmm, could these bad eating habits be related to portion control issues as adults? And what about digestion? So yeah, they managed to throw some food in their stomachs before running out to the playground, but your stomach can’t digest food on the go! With the onslaught of stress related chronic disease in adulthood (and childhood), hasn’t anyone thought, “well, let’s change these disastrous health habits while we still can?” I see a connection here, maybe not the only answer to the problem, but definitely part of it.
What is your child’s lunchroom experience like? Do you agree that the school lunchroom is a learning opportunity? What eating habits do you want your child to acquire before adulthood?
I feel like there will be more chapters to The Lunchroom Chronicles…