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Do Kids Have Enough Time to Eat Lunch at School?

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.

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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?

Christina Gleason (832 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I’m a relatively high-functioning Aspie who also lives with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. I am not ashamed to admit that I am in the care of a psychiatrist, who assures me that people in therapy are often better adjusted than “normal” people who are not, because at least we know what our issues are and are working on them. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including World of Warcraft and Plants vs Zombies 2. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead. I have started writing no fewer than five novels, and I hope to finish one of them...eventually.

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{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Erica September 19, 2012, 3:44 pm

    He recognized that he was unable to finish because he was playing.
    He will quickly figure out that if he wants to eat he will stop playing and eat.
    Growing up is very much about prioritizing and time management.
    A few more days of missing out on finishing and being hungry will squash that problem.
    I say that as a mom to three boys 20, 14 and 11 who ALL had the same issues.

  • Jessica January 21, 2013, 10:30 am

    I got mad one day because i went into my daughters class to read a story but after i ate lunch with her and first of all I could not eat the chili that they were serving it was so nasty (and i’m not picky) 2) my daughter is a slow eater she got 25% of her food ate by the time lunch was over and so did about 1/2 her class room.she is in kindergarten.that’s so sad because if 1/2 the class did not even finish 1/2 their lunches think of how hungry they are the rest of the day.also if the school is making nasty food like that are kids going to eat it?I wouldn’t would you?another thing i don’t want my kid eating as fast as she can because that can lead into health problems and if my kids get health problems because of eating to fast at school there will be some problems.

  • Carlene August 12, 2013, 12:41 pm

    Your thought about having the kids have a contest on who can finish first can be just as unhealthy to kids. I think that leads to trying to swallow bites whole. My son will throw up at meals when eating too fast or taking too large of a bite. Then he has no food in his stomach, and the school sends him home because he vomited, so he also loses valuable classroom time. Not sure what a good solution to this problem might be.

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