“What’s on our children’s plates?” is the question we’re hearing in the news a lot. School is not only back in session, but two acts— Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) and Healthy and Hunger Free Kids (HHFKA)—are set to go up for a vote at the end of this month in Congress. These big decisions will determine the nutritional makeup of millions of school meals each day. Cut a new question has popped up in the quest for better nutrition in our public schools: “How long do the kids have to eat?”
A new study out of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that students who have 20 minutes or less to eat lunch consume less of their entrees, milk and vegetables than those who have more time. Researchers studied leftovers from meals of 1,001 students in elementary and middle school and found that students with limited time eat 13 percent less of an entree and 12 percent less of vegetables. These students were also 13 percent less likely to select fruit for their meal. Karen Feldscher of Harvard Chan Communications explains why this is a problem:
While recent federal guidelines enhanced the nutritional quality of school lunches, there are no standards regarding lunch period length. Many students have lunch periods that are 20 minutes or less, which can be an insufficient amount of time to eat, according to the authors.
Reporting on the study, Nicholas Bakalar of the New York Times offers solutions through Dr. Juliana F.W. Cohen, the study’s lead author:
We need to focus on how to get kids to select and consume the appropriate food. Giving kids enough time to eat appears to play an important role… Push for longer lunch periods, more lunch lines, automated point-of-sale equipment, anything that will get the kids through the lunch line faster so they can spend more time eating.”
Before we go wagging our fingers at school districts who are already trying to cram a million things into the school day, let’s remember that this study also shines a light on the benefits of giving ourselves the proper time to eat regardless of our age. You may already be an expert on mindful eating, but there are many of us who run around all day snacking when we can and then catch up on the latest Netflix releases while eating our evening meals.
There’s plenty of research out there highlighting the benefits of slowing down at meals. Dr. Joseph Mercola has catalogued some studies in this recent article that specifically explore the benefits of chewing more slowly. These include:
- Eating less (eating just until you are full)
- Decreasing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes
- Absorbing more nutrients
- Better function of appetite regulating hormones
- Decreasing risk of becoming overweight
- For more tips on how to eat slowly and mindfully, check out Dr. Lilian Cheung’s book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.
Longer Lunch Periods Mean Fuller Students via The New York Times
Short lunch periods don't serve students' needs via Harvard Gazette
Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson