Mary Jane is satisfied with everything about eighth grade except the lunch periods. In a nutshell, they’re too short. At 22 minutes in length, they don’t give her enough time to do everything she needs to do, and this includes unwind from a morning of academics, eat, socialize, learn the value of not wasting food, and prepare for an afternoon of more academics.
About three weeks ago, Mary Jane noticed that she was not alone in her lunchtime lament when she watched a news story about short lunch periods all over her state — New Jersey. In fact, short lunch periods in school seem to be the trend. At the shortest, the school lunch time is 15 minutes. Why so short? One of the primary reasons is to give more time to academics and thereby increase standardized test scores.
But these lunch periods are simply too abbreviated. Mary Jane’s school, in fact all schools, should extend lunch to at least 35 minutes in length.
Because students are in classes all morning, they have little down time. Children need time to relax. This relaxation time should come at lunch. The midday meal should be a time to breathe, not simply to gulp down one’s food. The brain needs a few moments to slow down, to de-stress. Instead of calculating pre-algebra problems, middle school students need time to be kids, to tell jokes and stories about their life, to discuss the latest video games, to flirt with crushes. All of these activities promote coming down from a morning of hard academic work.
Most importantly, school lunch times should give students enough time to consume their lunches. Mary Jane’s packed lunch includes a peanut butter sandwich, a bag of celery, a bag of apple slices, pretzels or chips and a juice box. Can she eat all this in 22 minutes? I don’t think so.
If students like Mary Jane don’t get the time they need to eat, they have no nutrition to go on during their afternoon classes. The brain needs energy to think, analyze and evaluate. And for some students, lunch is their main meal. If they’re not consuming this, they are basically going hungry all day.
Along with consuming a lunch comes utilizing basic manners. The lunch period at school should be a time for kids to practice etiquette: to chew with their mouths closed, to utilize a napkin, to eat slowly. When the student has only 22 minutes to eat, is this even possible? Again, I don’t think so.
Furthermore, school lunch should be a time when a kid can make and keep friends. To do this, they need to socialize, to shmooze, to see and be seen. Mary Jane is not the most popular kid at school, but her mother does like the idea that she has friends she can sit with and enjoy a bite. Mary Jane eats lunch with three girls she’s known since preschool. This is a win-win for everyone.
But, again, the lunch experience as it stands now isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Because Mary Jane has so little time to eat, she ends up throwing a lot of her lunch away. This is a terrible model in a day and age when so many people have little or nothing to eat. Extending the lunch period would diminish waste and would offer the lesson of not wasting good food.
Finally, the school lunch period should give students a little time to psych themselves up for the afternoon of more school work. They need to use the restroom, to get a drink and swish the food particles out of their mouths, to take a big breath and do it all over again.
Are students the only ones who will benefit from longer lunch periods? No. Teachers and administrators will benefit as well. Students who’ve eaten good lunches will be easier to teach and manage.
Some may argue that with more time at lunch, kids will goof off and misuse the time. I say let them goof off. With the extra time, they will eat what they need to eat and have the fun they as kids deserve.
In conclusion, schools are doing a disservice to their students by forcing them to gulp down their food. I say give kids a chance to unwind, eat, socialize, learn the value of “waste not, want not” and prepare for the next half of the day. Everyone, including the teachers, will prosper from this important change.