School lunch ‘hour’ is more like 15 minutes

There is no lunch hour in public schools any more, reports NPR. By the time they actually get their food, “kids are lucky to get more than 15 minutes to eat” and some get less.
Ground beef sandwhich  from CT

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 20 minutes for lunch. That’s time to eat, not time standing in line.

At Oakland High School in California, more than 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The lunch break is 40 minutes — but some kids get only 10 minutes of table time, says Jennifer LeBarre, the district’s nutrition services director.

In a new poll, 20 percent of parents said their elementary school child gets 15 minutes or less to eat.

Fed Up displays school lunch photos submitted by students across the country. The “ground beef sandwhich” in the photo comes from Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Connecticut.

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  1. Ann in L.A. says:

    This is a big problem at both of our kids schools. In the elementary, there was so little time given, that a slow and picky eater like ours is always coming home saying he didn’t have time for lunch–this is a kid who is 5’3″ and weighs 83lbs with a BMI barely above the underweight line. We need him to eat! His sister reported the same problem when she was there.

    Her current junior high has a cafeteria, but it’s usually so busy, she just grabs something quick–which tends to be less healthy. She’s already carrying a heavy book back and a large instrument to and from school, so I’m reluctant to hand her a lunch box too. Also, starting in 9th, students don’t have a dedicated lunch period. They either have to use a free period, or ask a teacher if they can eat in class.

    When I was a kid, the lunch hour was long enough to walk home for a lunch with my mom–and I lived a mile from the school.

  2. We have the same problem at my kids school…since they have 4 lunch shifts the kids have 15 minutes to get lunch and eat before the next group is scheduled to come in and the last group has to get moving cause lunch is over and the kitchen staff wants to get out of there. Not healthy.

    • Kitchen staff probably “wants to get out of there” because their shift ends very soon. I’m bet they would be delighted to have an extra 15 minutes added to the end of their shift, so that they didn’t have to rush to leave and got a little boost in pay.

  3. When I attended middle and high school back in the late 70’s thru 1981, we never got more than 30 minutes for lunch, period.

    If you didn’t want to wait in line, you usually brown bagged it.

  4. I went to school in the 80s and our lunch was 22 minutes, which included walking to the cafeteria from the classroom. After the first week, nobody had a problem finishing. That being said, I tend to eat really quickly, which I’d imagine was a habit that became ingrained during my school years.

  5. I have to wonder if this scheduling isn’t an effort to curb bad behaviour. From an administrator’s perspective, why give them a full hour to throw that beef burrito?

    Really that whole premise of eating in a cafeteria so crowded that everyone is touching is rather repulsive to me. I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t play into a food disorder for some students, the stress of eating there.

  6. That sandwich is nasty looking. I can only assume that that particular vo-tech does not have a culinary program. My daughter attended a different CT Vo-Tech where they do have a good culinary program, and those are the folks who prepare the school lunches. She generally loved the lunches there, and she is a very picky eater.

    As for the time, my other high school child has the 22 minutes to get to the lunch room, get lunch, eat lunch, and get back to class. Unfortunately her pre-lunch classroom this year is as far from the cafeteria as you can get, so by the time she gets through the line to get her hot lunch or her salad bar, she’s lucky if she has 5 minutes. So this year she brown bags it. At least they haven’t started policing those lunches here for the approved amounts of grain, carbs, protein, etc. Yet.

  7. It is not rocket science to change the master schedule in a high school as big as Oakland’s. Or to change the serving system. Maybe one day some administrator will get ‘er done.

    • Yeah, but it does take money. Cafeteria workers are usually part-time, paid hourly. Lengthening the lunch periods means lengthening the number of minutes the cafeteria is open. Also, if the cafeteria is filled to capacity, you may have to cycle kids through quickly in order to avoid get all kids lunch in a reasonable window of time. If we doubled lunch time at my school, for instance, we’d need to either build a new cafeteria or start serving lunch at 9 am.

      Short lunches are bad, most people agree. There are practical reasons for them, however, that are expensive to overcome.

    • GoogleMaster says:

      Also, don’t forget that the school probably has 3000 kids in a building designed for 2000. You can add T-shacks to create enough classrooms for the extra kids, but they don’t do anything about the cafeteria except maybe add on an extra lunch period or two, and those are going to be at weird times like 10:00 and 1:00.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        If you’re a high school, you can allow for open lunch. That’s what mine did. We had 2 full-period lunches (necessary to get anyone through the cafeteria line) but students could also eat in the halls, outside, etc., and if you had a car (or a friend with a car) you could leave and get fast food. So we all had plenty of time and space to eat. (To restrict kids to the cafeteria, they would have needed about 7 lunch periods in a 7 period day!)

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          I think that in most places, students can’t leave during the day. If something happens to (or by!) the student, there is a public relations problem, and a potential legal problem.