Fast eat

At many schools, children learn to wolf down food as fast as possible, because lunch periods are so short. The Deseret News reports:

Still, in the day of increased school accountability, class time is battling meal time, and winning, said Marilyn Clayton, director of nutrition services for Jordan School District.

“They want them to be in class longer,” Clayton said. “A lot of the schools have 23 minutes from fourth to fifth period, and (students) have to go to their locker, then lunch, then back to the lockers” because backpacks aren’t allowed in lunchrooms. “And (that’s) not giving them enough time to eat.”

Experts say kids need only eight minutes to eat lunch — if they bolt it down.

Wolfing down food can lead to stomach problems, overeating and dash-dining habits that can transfer to adulthood, school nutrition experts say. Some wonder whether those habits are connected to rising obesity rates.

I don’t see why schools can’t extend the school day by 10 minutes to give students time to chew their food. I know of some schools that have a long lunch break to give students time to unwind, socialize and read while teachers have time to work with each other. It makes sense to me.

About Joanne


  1. My husband went to Exeter and he eats faster than any human alive. He claims that if you didn’t wolf it down, there weren’t seconds or dessert.

  2. At one of the elementary schools our kids attended they had as little as 15 minutes to eat. Yet, every year when the issue came up the teachers refused to lengthen the school day, as this would lengthen their work day. The union backed them and the kids lost. Things may be different in the states, this was an overseas school that had no accountability to the parents or students.

  3. My kids go to this district, and I was surprised to learn that they couldn’t come home for lunch. When I learned how long they have to eat (and this is k-6), I was even further shocked.
    (Assume old man tone) Back when I was a boy, I had an hour for lunch, which allowed me to walk home for a PBJ, apple and milk, (or supper leftovers, or whatnot) and walk back.
    (Assume normal tone) I can’t help thinking that my kids would benefit from that.

  4. Devilbunny says:

    In elementary school, we had 20 minutes from the time we left the classroom until the time we got back. The teachers each sat with their individual class to monitor us (it was a pretty strict school; no talking in the halls and no recess, though we did have PE).

    High school was supposed to give us 25 minutes, but we usually got more – one period of the day was lengthened for lunch, so teachers would often just teach for 45 min or so and then give us a half hour or more to eat.

  5. Can’t speak for every school of course, but one reason some schools give for short lunches is that it does keep the kids moving. The concern seems to be that if they have an extra ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes free at lunch, they’ve got that much more time to congregate with “peer groups” trade dirty looks, and get into fights. Using short lunch as a form of crowd control doesn’t seem quite kosher, but it is the rationale in at least some schools.

  6. When my daughter was in middle school last year, they had 25 minutes. But there were 1500 students in the school, with only 2 lunch lines. Her last class before lunch was a distance from the cafeteria/auditorium, so she always ended up with 1) the leftovers no one else wanted, and 2)less than 5 minutes to eat them. She came home most of the time with her stomach growling audibly.

  7. Meant to add that at my middle and high school, we had split lunch periods-while some students were in class, the other half was eating, then they switched off. There were also four lunch lines, plus the ‘snack window’, which sold pizzas and such. So we usually got our lunch pretty quickly, and had time to unwind a bit, organize our books, etc. before continuing our day.

  8. They’re worried about squeezing more instructional time per day while meeting a mere 180 days per year?

    Perhaps another solution might suggest itself if they think about it for a few nanoseconds…

  9. Walter Wallis says:

    Only 8 minutes? I would still only be on my second Martini! How do we expect to train future businessfolk?

  10. The press has discovered childhood obesity. At this rate, I expect to see some article somewhere which blames each and every aspect of school life. I have not yet seen the article which links anxiety about graduation tests to weight gain, but that is no doubt in the works somewhere.

    Scanning the article, it seem to me that the writer has not made a clear enough distinction between the ideal, that is, the fantasy world of what school dieticians would like to see, and the actual, that is, what happens in the real world of school cafeterias.

    What would happen if you doubled the school lunch period to an hour? Would you see young dining sophisticates, nibbling radicchio and fresh fruit, urbanely sharing the news of the day? Or would you see kids wolfing down a candy bar and soda, or sloppy joes and ho-hos, eating quickly in order to finish up homework or spend more time chatting up the girl next to them?

    In my kids’ school, lunch periods are short because there is no extra space. Even now, some kids are eating lunch at very odd hours; to add 10 minutes to each lunch period would mean that some kids would eat lunch in the morning, and some would just be finishing lunch when the bus arrives. Both groups of kids would be hungry during class.

  11. jeff wright says:

    The situation won’t change, for some valid, and some not-so-valid reasons. Discipline is an issue in some schools. Space considerations also play a role. I don’t remember how long lunch periods were, but I brown-bagged it all of the way through school (nice mom made a sandwich and provided an apple or orange and a couple of cookies). Bought milk at school. As a junior and senior in HS, I sometimes cut at lunch (this was back when the inmates were confined all day long) and got a burger.

    Of course, this was back in Neanderthal times when sodas, chips, pizza, etc., weren’t peddled by the schools and fat kids were a rarity.

  12. When I was in high school, we had 30 mins for lunch, open campus (could go off campus for lunch), and you could usually finish food in
    20 mins, and have 5-10 mins to socialize.

    The US has the shortest school year on the planet (among industrialized nations), and I can’t understand why we continue to base our school system on a model which has been obsolete for more than 65 years (when the nation did a lot of work in agriculture).


  13. When I was in elementary school, we got an hour and 15 minutes for lunch so we could walk home, eat and walk back. Very few kids had working mothers.

    In middle and high school we got a full period, about 50 minutes. In high school I regularly ate two packs of M&M’s for lunch since the cafeteria food was so dreadful. I’d go home with a hunger headache and have a bowl of soup. To this day, whenever I have a headache, my first instinct is to have a bowl of soup.

  14. I went to four different elementary schools (grades 1-6), and in three of them I could walk home about 3 blocks for lunch. I think the exception still had at least an hour for lunch, but it was six blocks away, just a bit far for a 3rd grader to walk, and with a hill I couldn’t get my bicycle over. So I brown-bagged it, and spent the extra time out in the playground. (Of course, this was back in the 50’s and 60’s, before the schools had to worry about being sued because some kid fell off the jungle gym.)

    Jr High, one period (an hour minus 10 minutes for getting between classes) for lunch, and due to restricted space they split it into two groups, with the other 25 minutes spent sitting in the bleachers in the gym. Not a very good situation neither for getting enough to eat nor for the 25 minutes when we were supposed to sit quietly, without enough room to really study…

    Sr High, one full period for lunch, with half on 4th and half on 5th period, or something like that. They expected us to be adult enough to be unsupervised after we left the cafeteria.

    In spite of this extra time out of the school day, they somehow managed to teach more than the schools nowadays do.

  15. I agree that eating habits can transfer over from childhood to adulthood. I learned to eat fast when I was in school. It didn’t stop in college; in fact, the faster I ate, the less full I felt. Which meant, more food intake before I felt full. 3 Big Macs in 10 minutes — no problem. 50 hot wings from Hooters — 30 minutes. I can see this leading to childhood obesity. What are the schools going to do when obesity in the school children continue to rise despite the ban on soda? Are they going to realize that the lunch time is a contributant?

  16. In elementary school, we had to brownbag, and had one hour for lunch plus recess. I have fond memories of recess, especially swinging, and hunting garter snakes in the spring.

    In junior high and high school, we had the equivalent of one and a half class periods (about 70 minutes) for lunch, because that was also the time for club/class (as in freshman class, for instance – it was a small school) meetings and advising meetings. Meetings weren’t usually held at any other time except after school. If you didn’t have a meeting on a given day, you could sit around and talk or study.

  17. I’m just very skeptical that it is possible to trace eating quickly to rising obesity. The biggest howler, for me, in the article was the suggestion that longer lunch periods would allow kids to try out what they learned in health class. Kids must have changed a great deal since my day. What’s next, the evils of poor posture?

    I agree that many signs seem to indicate that children, as a group, are getting heavier, but I don’t know that anyone has done any reputable scientific research into the causes.
    I think that many groups are using a current worry–rising rates of juvenile obesity–in order to push their specific concerns. Those responsible for school lunches will blame the brief lunch periods. Gym teachers will recommend more P.E. Self-esteem proponents will push for self-esteem programs in the schools, and so on down the line. There are more possible causes than one can list, and they may all contribute to the problem.

    The schools are not the sole culprits, however, and they cannot solve this problem alone. There is no simple way to limit kids’ caloric intake, while increasing exercise, short of a wholesale change in our current culture. Mary Eberstadt has a long article on rising childhood obesity rates in “Policy Review”: (Warning: she blames the parents!)

  18. jeff wright says:

    “I agree that many signs seem to indicate that children, as a group, are getting heavier, but I don’t know that anyone has done any reputable scientific research into the causes.”

    Well, it’s not hard to see the signs. Just go to a school or check out a mall. And actually, there has been lots of research into increasing obesity rates in American society. Sedentary life style, poor eating habits, junk snacks, etc. Result: more pounds and sharply increased rates of diabetes among kids and adults. It doesn’t take a whole lot of scientific research to figure out the effects of increased caloric intake coupled with much less physical activity. It seems kids today get a lot less exercise unless they’re on an organized sports team. Teaching middle school P.E. classes was a real eye opener for me.

    “(Warning: she blames the parents!)”

    No kidding. The finger points correctly in this instance, although it is disappointing to see the junk the schools peddle to the kids. Nothing like seeing an already overweight 12-year-old having a healthy snack of Cheetos and a Pepsi at 10 A.M. and a couple of slices of pizza and another soda for lunch.

  19. “Well, it’s not hard to see the signs. Just go to a school or check out a mall.”

    Yes, or check out a kids’ clothing catalog. It’s now easy to find pants with elastic waists for all sizes for boys. It’s become much harder to find what I would consider the standard, non-elastic waisted pants. I also suspect that today’s “slim” cut would have been considered the norm when I was a kid.

    “It seems kids today get a lot less exercise unless they’re on an organized sports team.”

    What sort of sports team? Baseball, for example, is not an aerobic sport. If the team has more players than it can field, a player may spend more time on the bench than playing.

  20. PJ/Maryland says:

    My recollection is that our elementary school gave us around 40 minutes for lunch, but we spent about half of that running around outside on the playground. The school had grades 1 – 8, and the higher grades had lunch a bit later, which I remember was an incentive to finish your lunch and go outside before the older students started taking over the cafeteria.

    In high school, we had 40 minutes (two “mods”) scheduled for lunch, but we also had free periods when you could have lunch if you wanted. Freshman and sophs were scheduled for lunch at 11:30 – 12:10, and juniors and seniors were from 12:10 – 12:50. Since there wasn’t anyplace to go “play” (this was in Manhattan), I guess we ate relatively leisurely. And then played nickel hockey, or did some homework. (The locker room was in the basement, as was the cafeteria, and there were no rules prohibiting backpacks or books.)

    There was only one food line, but the soda (and maybe juice?) vending machines had no lines, and I usually brown bagged my lunch. At a guess, the cafeteria could seat 300+ with a school population of about 500. I think there were enough people eating lunch early or late that the cafeteria was rarely full.

    I can see that adding food lines would be expensive, but simple space for kids to sit in a cafeteria should be pretty cheap. I know they frequently expand schools around here (first with temporary, trailer-like classrooms, and then later with actual additions) and think mostly about classrooms, but cafeteria space is really just a roof and four walls, nothing fancy. I think limiting lunch-length because of space limits is very short-sighted.

  21. PJ/Maryland says:

    In high school I regularly ate two packs of M&M’s for lunch since the cafeteria food was so dreadful. I’d go home with a hunger headache and have a bowl of soup. To this day, whenever I have a headache, my first instinct is to have a bowl of soup.

    Good thing you didn’t learn to eat M&Ms whenever you were hungry!

  22. PJ/Maryland says:

    On lengthening the school day:

    There’s been a controversy here (Howard county, MD) the past few weeks because the school district “discovered” they weren’t meeting state mandates for instructional time. They’re supposed to have 1,170 hours in high schools, and they’ve only had 1,128 hours. (One claim is they had been counting time from opening the school doors to closing rather than starting bell to closing bell.)

    So, the school superintendent suggests the standard high school schedule shift from 7:30 am to 2 pm to 7:25 am to 2:10 pm. (The idea of teenagers learning anything at 7:30 am boggles my mind, but that’s another post.)

    Since the same buses which take the HS kids home have to then go deliver the middle and elementary kids, the plan is to shift most elementary and middle schools’ schedules to 10 minutes later. (Apparently their instructional day is already long enough.)

    I quote from the local paper last week (not sure how long link will be good for): “One [school] board member objected to the idea of asking middle and elementary school students to leave school 10 minutes later. Sandra French said some elementary school students who endure long bus rides home, followed by a walk from the bus stop, would risk walking in the dark.”

    I think Ms. French’s concerns are misplaced, but they are valid. Here’s the current schedule of opening and closing times. The latest scheduled elementary schools start at 9:20 and end at 3:50, so shifting them 10 minutes means they’d run from 9:30 to 4 pm. In early to mid December, it gets dark around here at 5 pm (it’s more like 5:30 pm now, in mid-January). Needless to say, HS students are sometimes arriving at their schools while it’s still dark…

  23. I always had a full hour for lunch. According to Steven’s logic, I am entitled to spend 3 hours eating hot wings at Hooters.

    Research only, of course.

  24. “The idea of teenagers learning anything at 7:30 am boggles my mind.” I learned a very valuable lesson while feeding the cows at 6:30 am: not to be a farmer. 😉

  25. The problem is that schools are trying to fit in too many class periods. A 7 hour school day really has room for only 6 classes of 50-55 minutes, 5-10 minute passing periods, a 10 minute “homeroom” and a 40 minute lunch. At the elementary level, you could maybe fit in a seventh, by cutting periods to 45 minutes, but there really should be a 5 minute or so break between classes. I see schools trying to fit 7 or even 8 classes into a 7 hours day, and lunch goes bye-bye.

    One each English, Math, Science, Social Studies/History, two “other” from the PE,Computing, Arts, etc. fields should be enough at the secondary level. Elementary should be even more focused on the basics.

  26. I am a canadian high school teacher, and we have the semestered system. Each term (first term is ending now) students take 4 courses that run for 80 minutes. This is a nice length of time to get into the subject, deal with administrative stuff upon arrival, and even work on projects during class time. I find I notice less discipline issues since we moved to the semestered system. We have a 60 minute lunch. I think this longer lunch time is fantastic. I can see students for extra help (most are bused in and can’t stay after school)during that period, or have a debating club meeting etc. Kids can go out, have lunch out, or in the cafeteria, we run an extensive selection of intramural sports in our gyms, or they can just hang out and sit by their lockers. School starts at 7:30 in my board (in order to use the buses for two routes). It’s pitch black outside until almost 9:00 in December. I feel badly for the kids freezing in the dark at the bus stop, but such is life isn’t it? Later, when they work, or go to univeristy, the day starts and ends in the dark. (The elementary day which runs from 9:15 to 3:45 ends in the dark for most of the winter.) It works for us. We still get 8 courses in a year. No wolfing down of food, kids get some social time. It’s dark out, but hey! it’s winter! Can’t let than stop you from living.

  27. My memory of it is not very good, but when I think that when I was in high school (1985-89), we were allotted about 30 minutes for lunch. Even that was not enough time. I spent half that time standing in line in the cafeteria, on days when I didn’t bring my lunch from home.

    Our school had the curious feature of a sandwich bar. Fresh ingredients were provided buffet style and a sandwich was priced by weight; 25 cents per ounce. As a result I can’t recall ever actually eating any of the hot lunches served (which looked utterly revolting).

    The campus was typically closed, although not literally fenced off. Only seniors were allowed to leave the campus at lunch. So going home wouldn’t have been permitted anyway.

    Every other week on Fridays we were given a 45 minute lunch period, which was a luxury. The classload was ridiculous. My freshman year I was required to take introductory science even though I had already mastered the concepts, because all freshman had to take the class. This resulted in me having 7 classes in one day my whole freshman year. The required classload was such that even if you didn’t need the credits, you were forced to sign up for at least 5 classes every year except senior year.

    By the time I was a senior, I had so many course credits that I only had to sign up for 3 classes to graduate, and 2 of those were study hall and a TA position.

  28. No one’s mentioned yet the most common argument for not lengthening the school day: “But it’ll cut into sports practice!”

    I would echo Julia’s skepticism about a direct connection between rushed school lunches and obesity. Parental eating habits are probably the greatest determinant of children’s eating habits.

    I have other issues with the eight-minute lunch, however. Yes, it’s unhealthy to bolt one’s food, in terms of both digestion in the short term and the effect on one’s eating habits in the long term. But to reduce children’s eating time to the fewest minutes it takes them to inhale everything off the plate seems, in my mind, to reinforce the image of the public school as some sort of Orwellian factory, run by the unholy love child of John Dewey and Frederick Winslow Taylor.

    And while too many of us remember the school cafeteria as a setting of unbridled peer cruelty and ostracization, is the solution really to separate eating even further from social interaction than it already has drifted in the U.S.?

  29. Phentermine Online and Adipex Online is the fastest growing online source for Buy Phentermine and Buy Adipex prescription medication that you can trust to get your order out quickly and privately. We provide info for Cheap Adipex and Cheap Phentermine. Visit this site: