As I was perusing Facebook this morning, I happened upon a discussion that opened up when Mommy Niri asked if lunchtime was too short. TJ has only been in school for two weeks now, and we’ve already had more than one occasion where he’s reported not having enough time to finish his lunch. The first time was very frustrating to me; we’d given him some of the leftover pot roast he’d been raving about the night before, thanks to the awesome Thermos bowl my mom had gotten for him, and he came home having only eaten half of it because, and I quote, “I didn’t have enough time to finish it because I was playing with my empty juice box.” So we had to throw out the remains of the delicious pot roast that Tom or I would’ve eaten, if given the chance, because of the fascination of an empty juice box. Second grade boys make no sense to me.
And then there was yesterday. TJ opened the conversation by telling me he bought chocolate chip cookies to go with his lunch because it wasn’t enough food. But then he said he didn’t have time to finish eating his chicken, so he had to throw half of it out. When I told him he should be eating his healthy food first before the other stuff, he calmly told me that he always eats the snack food first at lunch. Trying to convince him to do otherwise was impossible. He’s 7, and he doesn’t have the option of eating dessert first when he’s at home, so he gives himself that liberty at school. On one hand, I get it. On the other hand, wasting perfectly good food – and he said he enjoyed the roasted chicken, but he just didn’t have time to finish it – drives me crazy. Especially when this boy is so hungry all the time. I’ve also told him before not to buy extra snacks at the cafeteria. I’m a frugal shopper, and I don’t buy individually wrapped snacks at the grocery store because it’s much more cost-effective to buy a bigger box and dole out portions in plastic bags or Tupperware bowls. I told him that if he’s always still hungry on those occasions when he buys lunch – rarely more than once a week – we can start sending him in with an extra snack from home to enjoy after he finishes the rest of his lunch.
Is School Lunch Time Too Short?
Some parents report that their kids only get 15 minutes in the cafeteria to eat lunch each day. I tried asking TJ how long they get for lunch, but he didn’t know. I do know he doesn’t have enough time to eat baby carrots with his lunch because they take too long to chew. He’s never had a problem finishing his lunch when he brings a peanut butter sandwich from home, so I know he does have sufficient time for a sandwich, snack item, maybe some fruit, and a drink. Standing in the lunch line to buy lunch takes away valuable chewing time, and eating the side items that come with his meal proved to be an issue with us last year. When he’d told me he didn’t have time to eat the fruit or veggies that came with his lunch, I’d told him to make sure he eats those first. Then he came home one day telling me he had to throw out most of his entree because it took him so long to eat his apple. So I asked him to try alternating bites of things so he had at least some of his fruit or vegetable when he bought lunch.
15-20 minutes is not a lot of time. Sure, I can scarf down a decent sized lunch at my desk in that time, but I’m home alone while I work. The cafeteria provides some of the only unstructured time our kids get during the school day, especially once they’re too old to get recess. So while I’m sure TJ would have plenty of time to eat all of his food every day if he just sat down and focused on eating the whole time, I think it’s unfair to expect him not to talk to his friends during lunch. Our kids need a little time to decompress over their meals. But how do we reconcile social time when they aren’t able to finish their meals?
Is There a Solution?
It would be nice to say that our kids should get about 10 more minutes to eat lunch each day. But where would that 10 minutes come from? It would have to either come out of instructional time unless the school day was extended by 10 minutes. And while 10 minutes may not seem like a lot at first blush, that would have to be negotiated in the teachers’ contracts, and there would be an additional cost for the support staff who make hourly wages, as well. That 10 minutes could add a substantial amount of money to the school budget, especially in large school districts like ours.
The burden of being able to finish their lunches, unfortunately, will continue to fall on our kids. They know how hungry they are when they sit down to eat lunch, and they know how hungry they’ll be by the time they walk home or get off the bus at the end of the school day. I guess this is a lesson for them in time management. I’m considering having TJ challenge his friends to a contest to see who can finish their food first the next time he buys lunch. That makes it social while still getting all of the food into his belly, right?
As parents, we can help our kids by packing lunches that don’t require extra time to eat. Save the baby carrots (and other super crunchy veggies) for after school. Those cute lunch box ideas you found on Pinterest with “some assembly required” when your child gets to the cafeteria? Don’t do it. Every minute they spend spreading something on bread or crackers is another minute where they aren’t actually eating. Make their lunches as simple as possible, and make sure every bite counts by sneaking nutrition into anything you can. Whole wheat bread, all-fruit preserves on your PB&J, soft (quick to chew) fruits like bananas… It’s not enough to pack your kids a nutritious lunch if they don’t have time to eat all of the nutritious stuff.
What have you done to help your kids make the most of lunch time?