How long did you have to eat lunch as a kid? I can’t remember exactly how long we had—maybe about 50 minutes, as it was about the same length as a class period—but I remember it felt like a long time. Since my elementary school didn’t have a kitchen, we all used to bring brown-bag lunches to school.

Though there was that one kid whose maid used to drop off his sushi, for the most part, there were lots of PB & Js and turkey sandwiches, carrot sticks, apples, animal crackers and juice boxes. Our parents used to pick out what kind of milk we should get at the beginning of the year, and every day we would grab our red (whole), dark blue (lowfat), light blue (skim) or chocolate milk off the tray when we walked into the “all purpose room.” Each grade had an assigned table, and we all used to sit down with our lunches and start eating. Then we had recess.

Perhaps this is where I got used to taking my time eating. Though my middle and high schools had cafeterias, I preferred having something in my bag to eat because waiting on line and having to rush through lunch drove me crazy. I’m still that way when it comes to eating at work. Why waste time on line at the deli or a fast-food joint when I can have something delicious waiting in the office fridge?

A recent survey by the School Nutrition Association shows that most American elementary school students have about 25 minutes for lunch (middle and high school students get around 30 minutes). In contrast, some countries, such as France, give kids up to an hour or even two to eat! France this is not. Those 25 minutes kids get includes time spent on line at the cafeteria as well as actual eating time, which leaves kids with only 10 or 15 minutes to actually eat. However, nutrition directors and the government recommend at least 20 minutes.

For starters, healthier foods often take longer to eat than their processed counterparts. Think about it: an apple takes longer than applesauce, and a salad requires a lot more chewing than, say, tater tots and chicken fingers. Also, kids may often start with their favorite (and often, less healthy) foods, leaving them with no time to eat the fresh fruits and veggies on their tray.

On average, students get about 5 minutes less to eat than they did in 2003, when many districts began shortening lunch periods. The cutback in lunchtime coincides with an increase in childhood obesity.

Research has shown that when people  eat quickly, they consume more  calories consumption, enjoy the meal less, and are hungrier an hour later. Experts reason that giving children less time to eat may be contributing to the obesity epidemic by keeping them from eating the healthy foods schools have been starting to offer more of and leading to more snacking later on.

Since many factors go into planning lunch periods, principals and school food directors need to work together to come up with the lunch schedule. Aside from academic schedules, building size, number of serving lines, seats, and the amount of children coming into the cafeteria at one time need to be taken into consideration.

How long did you have to eat lunch as a kid? If you have kids, how long do they get for lunch in school? How long do you think lunchtime should be? 

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