Are Short School Lunch Periods Causing Obesity?

Everyone’s trying to fix the obesity epidemic plaguing this country. And everyone’s got a theory as to it’s causes. Nutritionally poor school lunches are the usual suspect, but here’s an unexpected twist based on a survey conducted by the School Nutrition Association:

Kids don’t get enough time to eat during lunch break. As a result, they eat the tasty, unhealthy food first, and throw the healthy fruit or veggie to the trash bin because they need to get back to class, or are running out to the yard. We’re talking about 32 million children being served government subsidized lunch, every single weekday.

elementary kids have about 25 minutes for lunch; middle school and high school students about 30 minutes. That includes the time students need to go to the restroom, wash their hands, walk to the cafeteria and stand in line for their meals.

Many students may have only about 10 to 15 minutes left to eat their meals, school nutrition directors say. But students should have at least 20 minutes to eat their lunch, the government recommends. read more from USA Today…

(By the way, in France kids get at least an hour for lunch…)

On other fronts though, it seems that nutrition is starting to improve in many schools, with healthy food choices being offered more often:

  • Nationwide, nearly every school district offers fresh fruits and vegetables (98%)
  • Whole grain foods have become readily accessible (97%)
  • 89% of school districts offer salad bars or pre-packaged salads
  • About two-thirds provide vegetarian meals (63%)
  • Virtually all districts offer fat-free or 1% milk (98%)
  • Nearly half (48%) of survey respondents are offering locally sourced fruits and vegetables (up from 37% in 2009).
  • 21% of school districts say they have a school garden and another 37% are interested in or planning to implement these programs.

Encouraging signs. What’s been your experience in your child’s school?

Get Fooducated: iPhone App Android App RSS Subscription or Email Subscription

Follow us on twitter: on facebook:

  • June Sanderson Saxton

    Along with longer lunches, I have read about some schools that have lunch after recess instead of before.  By doing this, you can be certain that the kids will be hungrier. 

  • Weber

    I don’t know if it’s still like this, but in my elementary school when I was growing up we had a “25″ minute lunch period. ”25″ minutes, because the cleaning staff began forcing kids off tables and outside at 10-after so they could “clean” (I don’t know what they actually did.) 

    Generally, kids picked the one thing they wanted most, ate that, and left before they got detention. After awhile I told my mom I’d “make my own lunches” and started buying only a milk ticket. Easy enough to drink a pint of milk in 10 minutes without choking and the line was shorter… so you actually had all 10 minutes. (Not like the hot lunch kids who stood in line for 6 or seven minutes and then had 2-3 to eat their chili-mac.)

  • Nellie

    I’m sorry you asked what happened in our school district. The school put out a salad bar in the high school and some kid(s) promptly put acid in it.  End of salad bar.

  • Anon

    Offering fruit or veggies or salad or low-fat milk doesn’t mean anyone’s eating it, that was clearly shown on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Schools are probably only offering those things becasue they have to so they meet the federal requirements, along with the pizza, white bread, fries and other crap they’re serving that the kids are actually eating.

    I remember in middle school almost always eating from the “snack bar” side of the lunch room where kids could get nachos, chili cheese fries, honeybuns, all crap.

  • Shari Monsees

    If you think your school lunches are unhealthy, then get the vending and fast food out of their cafeteria. Get involved! Pay attention to the lunch menus , ask questions, offer solutions and quit gripping! Be a example, what are you eating, or providing them to eat?

  • Catherine

    I hadn’t thought about this from this angle before but it frustrates me that my child only gets about 10 mins to actually sit and eat.  It is quite ridiculous and I wonder who instigated this particular policy?

  • Marykate

    I witnessed first hand last year kids in Boulder, CO elementary schools were throwing out half or more of their lunch. Some were just not eating because they did not want to wait on line for lunch. I think that it might be causing obesity but it is probably the reason kids are tired, loose concentration and are moody in class by the afternoon.  I think that kids need the time to eat a balanced lunch to be successful in the classroom.  marykate@zisboomnah:twitter

  • AR

    I’m glad this topic came up as I actually ate with my elementary school child on several occasions to see what lunch was actually like. They are given approximately 25 minutes however I timed the actual eating time: 10 minutes. I couldn’t even finish my lunch and I was eating quickly! I also noticed that the children were so thirsty that the first 5 minutes were spent drinking. And of course it’s supposed to be social so talking sometimes trumps eating.

    The other disturbing factor, from a purely philosophical point of view, was that their coats, jackets, etc. were left on as they immediately go outside after eating and there is no place to set aside their outerware. The whole scene just appeared like an afterthought and was actually more disturbing than the food.

  • Hannah

    25-30mins for lunch?? Wow. In Australia, all schools – on average – have a morning recess break for about half and hour and a lunch break for about an hour. Plenty of time to eat lunch, socialise, play on the equipment, etc. But I am afraid I can’t offer this up as a solution to the “obesity epidemic” as it is a major problem in our country, too.