- A school district in California grows vegetables and offers cooking classes, but parents told the Washington Post lunch breaks are so short that some students don’t have time to eat.
- One parent created a Change.org petition to extend lunchtime.
- The parent alleges the school took time out of lunch and recess in order to make up for 15 additional administrative minutes the school district added.
- Doctors recommend students have at least 20 minutes to eat their food, but schools all around the country struggle to meet that minimum.
- Research has shown that rushed school lunches can lead to poor academic performance and unhealthy eating.
- Visit Insider’s home page for more stories.
At California’s Berkeley Unified School District, students can grow their own fresh organic vegetables in a lush green garden. The school district even offers the nation’s only district-wide cooking program to instill young children with an appreciation for crafting fine cuisine.
But when it comes to actually eating food at lunchtime, some students are running out of time and going hungry.
That’s according to a Washington Post story this week highlighting parent complaints of inadequate lunch breaks at BUSD. Upset parents explained how a combination of lunchtimes less than 20 minutes and long lines have led to situations where students simply run out of time and are forced to dump complete trays of uneaten food into the garbage.
“They got their food and dumped it right in the trash and were dismissed for recess,” Deb Shell, a BUSD parent, told the Post. “It was heart-wrenching to watch elementary-aged kids not eat and infuriating to see the food wasted.”
In some situations, she said, the bell would ring and some students still hadn’t been served.
Doctors recommend kids get at least 20 minutes for lunchtime
While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends every student receive at least 20 minutes of seated lunchtime, there are no nationally mandated standards for lunch lengths. Districts, then, are left with the responsibility of deciding how long students have to eat.
Though BUSD student are supposed to have 20 minutes allocated for lunch, the district recently added 15 minutes of instructional time to class schedules, according to the Post. To make up for that added time, Shell alleges, her child’s school skimmed five minutes off lunch and five minutes off recess.
Those five minutes may not sound like much, but once students walk to the lunchroom and wait in line, not much time is left to calmly eat a meal.
In a statement emailed to Insider, BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens said the district offers 40 minutes for lunch and recess but that the exact amount of time may vary between sites.
“In terms of the schedule, there is not a simple solution, as any change in school schedules has many interlocking issues, including timing of after-school programs and transportation,” Stephens said. “Changes also create logistical issues for teachers related to their prep time, meetings, and after-school duties.”
Shell filed a petition on Change.org advocating for longer lunches district-wide. By Wednesday afternoon,it had more than 1,400 signatures.
“Our children were coming home from school with their packed lunches barely touched,” Shell wrote on the petition page. “We decided to go observe our school’s lunch and that day we witnessed a 15 min lunch period with 18 children still standing in line for food when the recess bell rang to conclude lunch.”
Short lunchtimes can lead to poor academic performance and may contribute to childhood obesity
Short lunchtimes have been a problem across the US for years.
A national poll conducted by NPR and the Harvard School of Public Health in 2002 found one in five elementary schools students had 15 minutes or less to eat their meals – a far cry from the hour lunch breaks of previous generations.
Research out of The University of Washington found that even with a 2004 state law mandating at least 20 minutes of lunchtime for each student, the reality in Seattle was fewer than 13 minutes.
A 2015 study out of Harvard’s School of Public Health found that students with fewer than 20 minutes for lunch tended to stray away from healthy foods like vegetables. These negative effects of shortened lunches may also have a disproportionate effect on low-income students, who often rely on school meals for the majority of their daily nutrition.
Shell’s petition is asking the school district to add back the 10 minutes she says were skimped from recess and lunch, and to limit food waste.
Stephens, the BUSD superintendent, said the school is trying to address the issue.
“We are working with our Principals, teachers and departments to determine the specific issues at each site, so that we have a realistic idea of what it could take to make any necessary adjustments,” he told Insider.
- Read more:
- The largest school district in the US just started offering free lunch for all 1.1 million students
- A 9-year-old school kid spent his allowance paying off his classmates’ school lunch debt. People are outraged it ever came to this.
- 1 in 5 children live below the poverty line: Here are the states with the highest number of kids dependent on free lunches
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