Sometimes too much emphasis is placed on the academic part of attending school. What about the other benefits students gain from attending school? Although many would disagree the lunch period being a benefit of attending school, it plays a big part in their academic success. For most, the average lunch period is 20 minutes from start to finish. From the article “Children Need Sufficient Time to Eat School Lunch,” the following is a 20-minute lunch observed by Heather Harrell (2016), “20 minutes to get to the lunchroom, go to the bathroom, go through the lunch line, eat, bus the individual’s lunch area, and get back to the classroom (par.
1). Twenty minutes is not enough time for children to eat, having enough time to eat is very important. By not allowing enough time children could be forced in learning unhealthy eating patterns, along with not getting their body recharged necessary for focusing on academics during the remainder of the school day. Having insufficient time to eat can promote eating habits that can contribute to the uprising rate of child obesity, such as eating too quickly or consuming more processed foods as opposed to fruits and vegetables (Harrell, 2016).
Although learning is the main purpose of attending school, Illinois school districts should extend the lunch periods, because students are not finishing their lunches, not making good food choices, and failing academically by not eating a quality lunch.
Therefore, installing regulations for allowing longer lunch periods could allow the students to have enough time to finish their lunches.
While meals served through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are regulated for nutrition and eligibility for free or price reduced lunches, there are no regulations for a specific amount of time allowed for lunch (Harrell, 2016). The students who are receiving the free or price reduced lunches are being affected since the school meals are probably the most significant meal, they receive during the school week. Some of these children depend on the school lunches to receive fruits and vegetables that they would rarely see or have available at home.
According to Cohen et al, (2016), a study of six schools was conducted and overall when the students were allowed more time for lunch, they consistently ate more of their lunch. Overall, students were significantly less likely to select a fruit if they had less than 20 minutes to eat their meal compared with having at least 25 minutes (44.4% vs. 57.3%). Similarly, the selection of fruits was significantly lower when students had between 20 to 24 minutes to eat compared with when students had at least 25 minutes (46.9% vs 57.3%). The selection of entrées did not change regardless of the amount of time they had for lunch (100%). They also noted that students arriving late or who were at the end of the line would tend to pick foods they were more likely to eat to maximize the amount of time there was to eat their lunch when they had twenty minutes or less for lunch (Cohen et al, 2016). Making these decisions on time could also contribute to poor eating habits that can lead to conditions such as child obesity.
For instance, having the time restraints children may pick foods that are quicker and less healthy, or they may opt to skip lunch which may cause unnecessary overeating later. According to Sung, (2019), students who packed their lunches to avoid the wait in line, packed primarily snack foods. Although these students would be allowing themselves more time to eat their lunches, the choices they are making are unhealthy ones. Bad habits created during childhood have the potential to carry over into adulthood which can lead to further health problems. Also consuming food too quickly is associated with adverse gastrointestinal hormone responses and with decreased perceived satiety post-consumption, it may increase the risk of becoming overweight (Cohen et al, 2016). With a longer lunch day, students can have more time to eat slowly and recognize signs of fullness, which do not develop until 20 minutes after eating (Carpenter, n.d.). Beyond the habits and health ramifications, eating poorly or not getting enough to eat could impact them academically as well.
Consequently, when students don’t get the right nutrition or enough to eat this could cause them to become sluggish and not as focused for the remainder of the school day. Also, when proper nutrition is absent it may cause the children to become ill which could result in missing school. Missing too much school could result in being held back. According to Anderson (2017), “Students who eat regular, healthy meals are less likely to be tired, are more attentive in class, and retain more information (par. 10) The National School Lunch Program has been in place since 1946 when the president Harry Truman signed the bill (USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, n.d.). Meals are required to meet nutrition standards; as part of the changes required by Congressional reauthorization of the program in 2010, NSLP nutrition standards have been updated to more closely match the Federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans (USDA, Child Nutrition Programs, n.d.) These updates are to provide nutritious foods to be served for their lunch programs. By providing healthy meals the students should be more attentive in class and be able to focus better during class time.
Also, most school faculty would oppose lengthening the lunch periods since this may cause longer days and rushing to be able to finish daily lesson plans. Creating longer days may leave “students less time after school for physical activity, which is another important component in keeping students at a healthy weight. Besides, a longer school day might lead to burnout among students,” stated by Carpenter, (n.d.) in the article she wrote, “Pros & Cons of Longer School Lunches” (par. 4). Maybe there could be some middle ground that can benefit all who could be affected by extending the lunch periods. For example, as discussed earlier students ate more and selected foods better by receiving over 25 minutes. If the current lunch period is 20 minutes, extend it to 30 minutes. That is taking ten minutes away from the class which could be divided by the number of daily lessons. Ten minutes is not going to make an impact that could deprive students of their academics or create a longer day. Another could be to offer more cashiers, added tray lines, or pre-daily selection of their lunches, which would allow lines to move more quickly.
To conclude, leaving the children to make decisions for their health and academics is unreasonable. They need to be guided and led by example by their peers. Different routes can be taken to achieve the extended lunch period of having at least 20 minutes of seat time. The parents and school faculty should conduct meetings to figure out what would best fit their school to obtain the goal of extending the lunch period. Food is the body’s fuel, without it or lack of healthy foods will impair the body to reach its full potential. What about the children who are going hungry at home and rely on school meals for nourishment? The federal government put in place The National School Lunch Program, to regulate schools to provide nutritious meals and the free and price reduced lunch program. Why have a program so children don’t go hungry and receive nutritious meals if they don’t have time to eat them and so much of the food is wasted every day? For these reasons, Illinois needs to regulate the length of the school lunches to allow them more time to eat them.