“I’m starving!” Those were the first words I heard when my kids walked in the door after school almost every single day. It amazed me how hungry they were. And just a small snack was never enough to satisfy them. They needed something substantial. It seemed like when the kids reached kindergarten, we went from three full meals a day to four. I needed to find out why.
No time for lunch
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about how little time kids get for lunch at school. At my children’s school, the kindergarten classes got less than 10 minutes at the table at lunch time. The USDA recommends that kids get at least 20 minutes at the table. Without making a few visits to the school to see for yourself how much time your kids actually get at the table, you won’t know whether they are being given an adequate amount of time to eat a healthy lunch.
School lunches aren’t eaten
Across the United States, schools are making an effort to present healthier lunches to kids. According to the USDA, this year’s National School Lunch Program meal plan “increases the availability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the school menu.” That sounds great, but in reality much of this healthy food will be wasted, some because kids just don’t like it and more because they don’t have the time to eat their full lunch.
The Chicago Tribune reported last year that hundreds of pounds of food were discarded daily in the schools they visited, much of it in unopened containers or intact fresh fruits. Much of this food was thrown away because the schools would not allow the children to take it with them from the cafeteria, and they simply didn’t have enough time to get to their apples or bananas before their few minutes of lunch time were over.
Cafeterias are overcrowded
Part of the reason for the extremely short lunch periods at many schools is that the cafeterias are overcrowded. The schools can only fit so many students in the cafeteria at one time, and then those students must clear out to make way for the next group.
Another problem with cafeteria overcrowding is the timing of lunch breaks. When my kids were in kindergarten, they had to go to lunch at 10:45 in the morning. They weren’t hungry yet at that time, so much of their lunch was wasted, but by late afternoon when they got home, they were starving.
The school lunch problem actually threatened my daughter’s health, because she wasn’t getting the nutrition she needed each day, and it was one reason we decided to try homeschooling. Now, when I make my kids a sandwich and an apple for lunch, they have plenty of time to sit down and eat it.
More by Tavia:
Homeschooling Saved Our Lunch
Back to School: Variations on the Peanut Butter Sandwich
Comprehensive Guide to Field Trip Etiquette