On a typical summer day, when my girls sit down to a meal at home, they generally spend the first fifteen minutes chatting and goofing off, and the next 45 minutes or so alternating between eating, talking, and laughing. It's a slow process that can be infuriating at times - like say when we are trying to go somewhere. But most of the time I'm of the opinion that eating slowly is better for them as it helps them enjoy their meal and it gives them a chance to finish eating when they are full, rather than just when they have cleaned everything from their plates.
But I do worry about how these kids who are used to slow, relaxed meals can survive the rushed, hectic atmosphere of the school lunch. At my daughters' school, the kids are given 30 minutes for lunch, which --according to a new survey by the School Nutrition Association -- is actually five minutes longer than the 25 minutes that most elementary kids are given to eat their lunches. I have eaten lunch with my eldest daughter a number of times and have noted with dismay that even though she packs her lunch, she only has about ten minutes to eat after she hits the restrooom, washes her hands, and makes her way to the cafeteria.
This rushed lunch period has some experts worried that the amount of time kids are given to eat lunch may be contributing to childhood obesity as much as the foods they are eating. Research shows that when people eat quickly, they consume more calories than they really need to feel full. They also tend to reach for quick foods like french fries, chips, or chicken nuggets that are easy to eat instead of salads or fresh fruits and vegetables.
What's the answer? It doesn't seem likely that schools that are cutting subjects like art and P.E. in favor of test preparation will consider adding a precious fifteen minutes to the day's lunch period. But as parents we can use this info to encourage our kids to eat healthier foods in the short amount of time they have to eat lunch each day. And make sure that our kids breakfasts and after school snacks that are packed with veggies and protein to make up for any nutrient gap they had at lunch.