Ever running from place to place, wondering how you're going to fit in a nutritious meal? End up grabbing a granola bar, chips, juice or the equivalent? Our kids aren't far behind us. A new study just published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics underscores what we thought we've known for some time - that inadequate time for school lunch affects what our kids eat.
Researchers from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined plate-waste to determine the association between amount of time to eat and school meal selection and consumption. They looked at over 1,000 students in grades three through eight attending six elementary and middle schools in an urban, low-income school district where lunch period lengths varied from 20 to 30 minutes.
What they found might explain some critics' arguments for rolling back more nutritious school lunch standards - plate waste. Perhaps it's not the food being served but rather the time it takes to eat a piece of fruit, or cut and chew vegetables...
The authors found that students with less than 20 minutes to eat lunch consumed 13 percent less of their entrées, 12 percent less of their vegetables, and 10 percent less of their milk than students who had at least 25 minutes to eat. Those with less time were also less likely to select a fruit offering. And, not surprisingly, food waste increased in the "rushed" group.
The authors conclude simply by stating, "school policies that encourage lunches with at least 25 minutes of seated time might reduce food waste and improve dietary intake."
Turns out five minutes (or more) makes a big difference, particularly when you account for time spent in the lunch line choosing and paying for food. We've spent a good deal of resources and energy getting the nutrition part right, yet we have no standards requiring a minimum time for school meals. it's time to let kids actually eat what's being served.