When it comes time to eat in the middle of the school day, research shows students need at least 20 minutes sitting at the table, yet parents and students tells us such opportunities are rare inside our school cafeterias.
Most schools set aside more than 20 minutes for lunch periods, but by the time our children get out of class and through the lunch line they may have just mere minutes to eat.
An Omaha mom whose 3 children attend OPS tells WOWT her children often eat last night's leftovers just after school. "They're trying to make up from being hungry all day long," Elizabeth Carreon explained.
The Carreon children, Julia, Forge, and Nicole, say the way their cafeterias are managed they never have more than 10 minutes with their food. Eighth grader Nicole says she feels like she has two options: choke down her food or end up going hungry.
An Omaha pediatrician warns this cafeteria crunch time is contributing to our obesity epidemic. He says food shouldn't feel like a task.
"It should be something you enjoy so that you can actually sit down and spend time eating," stressed Children's Physicians Dr. David Kaufman. "The slower you eat your food, the fewer overall calories you're going to consume."
Unfortunately a slow lunch isn't a luxury most schools feel they can afford. Our Lady of Lourdes Principal Bill Kelly told us, "We have a rigorous curriculum we follow. We want them to learn a lot."
Kelly says part of that learning comes in the social experience of lunchtime. It's something Our Lady of Lourdes fourth grader Clare Jandrain has mastered while also finishing her meal most every day. "I can talk to my friends and eat lunch and have fun sometimes," she said.
Leaving the bigger social experience until after lunch has proved problematic for many districts. "When kids know that they're going to go out for recess, they'll dump their food and go out for recess because, after all, recess is the more important item," says Westside Community Schools Nutrition Services Director Diane Zipay.
Moving recess right before lunch has helped many students work up an appetite and focus on food.
More focus from everyone involved, primarily the adults inside the cafeteria, seems to be the most important piece of this lunchtime puzzle as even in an ideal scenario it takes 10 seconds to serve each child.
Zipay says, "That's only 6 students per minute, and when you bring 60 children down at the same time to go through the line that means the child that's last in line is in line for 10 minutes."
With such a short window to make the most of lunch, Jandrain says she and her peers are left with one option. "Spend less time talking and spend more time eating!"