Parents: 15-minute lunch too short for kids


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Students at Horn Elementary filed into the lunch room at 11:15 a.m. on a Thursday morning, sitting down to eat with their winter coats still on. Chewing their food at a fast pace, the children ate only what time allowed, often leaving behind their fruits and vegetables or main entrées.

Only 10 minutes passed before they were hurried to recess.

Nina Elkadi, Carrie Callaham, and Callie Dains — fifth-graders — along with Carmen Gonzalez-Recober, a sixth grader, all said they feel like they don't have enough time to eat lunch.

"They're usually telling us to hurry up and eat cause we have P.E. after this," Dains said, as she stayed inside to talk with friends. "Some kids don't have enough time to eat."

The others agreed with her.

"Teachers yell at us to get out around 12, even though we still have 10 more minutes and we don't have to go out if we don't want to," Elkadi said.

Iowa City School District parents have recently raised concerns about the 15-minute lunch periods, saying they're too short.

In response, Iowa City School District Superintendent Steve Murley has scheduled a meeting at 6 p.m. today at Shimek Elementary, 1400 Grissel Place, to discuss the issue.

UI Associate Professor of anthropology Katina Lillios, a mother of a sixth-grader at Shimek, will be among those attending the meeting. She created a website, Healthy Eating Takes Time, dedicated to the issue. By Sunday night, the online petition had nearly 70 signatures.

"At our home, as I am sure in most homes, we teach our child to enjoy his eating and to see eating as a relaxing social time," she said. "The schools, in contrast, are teaching children to simply eat efficiently and minimize conversation," she said.

Lillios said she became concerned about the amount of time needed to eat when her son came home with a full luchbox and complained of not having enough time to eat his lunch.

"Some [kids] will throw out some of their food or skip their milk — which is wasteful and doesn't allow kids to benefit from the nutrition provided from the food they are given," Lillios said.

"Children who haven't fully eaten their lunches are tired, irritable, and will not learn as effectively as well-nourished children."

School Board member Mike Cooper said he hoped the administration and parents would work the issue out.

"I don't disagree that 15 minutes is not enough time," he said.

Some national experts said they, too, feel 15 minutes is too short.

"It really depends on the district and its needs, but 15 minutes, I will say, is rather short," said Alexis Steines of the School Nutrition Association. "We want to make sure kids have enough time to eat the healthy food they are served."

The short lunch period also minimizes time to socialize, experts said.

"I think children need that time not just for nutrition but for socialization," said Rhonda Clements, a professor of education at Manhattanville College who has written books on children's nutrition and physical education.

As an advocate for 25-minute lunch periods and more time to play, Clements said she believes students need socialization with their peers just as much as they need schooling.

"What we are doing is basically telling the child to shovel food into their mouths, and we don't give them the chance to sit down and actively socialize with their best friends," Clements said.

But some teachers think the lunch period is long enough.

"I feel like they have enough time to eat, but they don't use all of that time," said Maggie Wagenknecht, an assistant in the kindergarten class. "They generally spend it talking. You can't force them to, but you can encourage them to eat a little bit more."

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