Wednesday, December 4, 2013

School Lunches - Virtually Nonexistent

The article "These Days, School Lunch Hour is More Like 15 minutes" was featured in NPR's food blog, The Salt. I can't quite recall how long my school lunches were, but I'm fairly certain lunch period was more than 15 minutes. I believe it was closer to a 30-40 minutes.

The irony of this whole situation is that the government has tried to impose new standards to encourage healthier eating, through increased consumption and availability of fresh produce. Failing to realize that preparing healthier, whole foods takes more time simply makes these well-intentioned changes moot. The whole reason why school cafeterias turn to processed foods is that they are faster and cheaper to make, serve, and eat. I think it's virtually impossible to apply the fast food "time table" if schools realistically want to serve healthier, less processed foods. If we try to apply fast food timing to healthy food, everyone ends up back at square one.

In my opinion, the lack of attention paid to food and nutrition generally reflects our society's workaholic culture and subsequent obsession with convenience. Many of the original fast foods (like hamburgers and hot dogs) were designed with factory workers in mind - eat quickly and get back to work. While these meals filled stomachs, they were obviously  not nutritionally ideal.  Since most modern Americans are generally more sedentary today, this eating style is maladaptive. As a country, we need an serious attitude overhaul when it comes to food.

In the backdrop of our country, where up to a third of children and adolescents are obese, establishing healthy eating patterns needs to start early, in the home and in school. And that means not giving students 15 minutes to scarf down unhealthy, processed foods. While the political backdrop makes offering healthy choices to students difficult, there have been some encouraging examples (see an example in a Brooklyn school here). Many schools are facing budget cuts and increasing pressure to increase instruction time to boost standardized test scores. However, it makes no sense whatsoever to cut time from lunch. Investing in childrens' health, well-being, and education should be paramount for our society. Why are we choosing only one or the other?


  1. How in the world is anyone supposed to eat in 15 minutes and eat anything that resembles healthy? Most healthy food does require chewing and chewing takes time. Time that is cut down by having to actually get that food, take it to table and eat it. You are right, convenience is the word of the day in our society. But I wonder how many kids will speak up? Salad or a slice of pizza? My guess is the latter.

  2. Hi Robin, I agree - I think kids will generally opt for the more "delicious" foods. But I think with the right tweaks, I think kids can learn to like healthier foods, especially if introduced earlier on. There have been some promising initiatives in NY and CT - I hope they'll continue to catch on!


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