Friday, February 15, 2013

How Much Time Is Enough for Lunch? (Recess Before Lunch Part 2)

Our Apple Corps member, Mandy, has been reflecting on Concord's Recess Before Lunch program and how to encourage physical activity during the school day. Read Part 1 of her reflections here

In my time at Concord International Elementary this school year, I've realized that it’s not just an issue of Recess Before Lunch (RBL) or Lunch Before Recess. Rather, it’s a question of whether students even have enough time to eat their lunch. This is an issue not just at Concord, but at many Seattle Public Schools and likely schools throughout the country.

Students don’t have enough time to eat their lunch. From what I've heard, even when the students ate lunch before recess at Concord, they still rushed through their meals to get outside for recess and didn't spend much time eating.

Concord has a large number of students receiving free and reduced lunch. Unlike other schools where many students bring their lunches from home, the majority of the students at Concord have to get through the lunch line to receive their food. So, part of the problem is an issue of capacity.

Seattle School District Nutrition Services recommends, based on national standards, that students have 20 minutes to sit down and eat lunch. However, this is only a recommendation; schools are not required to budget that much of time.

If they are at the end of the lunch line, Concord students sometimes have only three to five minutes to sit down and eat lunch after waiting in line. This isn't because lunchroom staff members aren't doing their jobs – they manage to get a very large number of students in from the playground and through the lunch line in record time. However, there are too many students to serve in too short a time period.

I believe that even if Concord switches back to a recess after lunch model, the challenge of allocating enough time to eat will remain. Dr. Zavala, the principal at Concord, as well as faculty and staff, agree on this point and they have created a "lunch team" to address the issue.

It’s important to realize that Concord is not the exception. Many, if not most, schools face similar challenges and likely the majority of students throughout the Seattle School District (and beyond) do not have enough time to eat lunch.

If we want to encourage our students to exercise and eat healthy foods, we must have a school schedule that allows them to do so. Forcing students to sacrifice the social aspects of eating together and encouraging them to gorge on their lunch doesn't promote the healthy eating habits we want to develop.

So perhaps, rather than questioning the efficacy of Recess Before Lunch, schools and school districts should begin by questioning whether or not students have enough time to eat at school. Although it may prove to be challenging, allotting students enough time to eat is a great start to helping them develop positive eating habits.

Read Part 3 of her reflections here.

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