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The bell rings for lunch, and everyone is out! It’s hard to forget the ubiquitous race that takes place every day around noon. Not only are kids hungry, but they also know what will happen if they end up last in line; they’ll have spent more time waiting for their meal than they have to eat it! The race against time is still a major concern in public school cafeterias today, and it’s affecting how much fruits and veggies school-kids are eating. Not all schools have this problem! So talk to your child to see if they have enough time to eat. A recent study showed that kids are 13% more likely to eat a fruit when given 25 or more minutes to eat in the cafeteria, compared to 20 minutes or less. So, want to increase the chances of your child eating a fruit? It only takes 5 more minutes! When they had 20 minutes or less, studies also found that children ate less of their meal, 10% less milk, and 12% less vegetables. It makes sense—kids can’t eat their fruits and veggies if they don’t have time! Instead of eating at lunchtime, kids are spending much of their time standing in line and traveling in the cafeteria.
Given the way school is structured, it may be difficult to appeal for longer lunch periods. However, there are other things can be done to help maximize the time that children have to eat lunch. Get involved with the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization and take action by advocating for more serving lines and more efficient checkout lines to decrease the amount of time children spend waiting in line.
Don’t want to get involved with school logistics? No problem! You can still make a difference in your child’s cafeteria lunch experience. Here are five ideas on how you can help give your children the extra five minutes they need to consume a balanced meal:
1. Pack lunch for your child. In addition to the many benefits of eating healthy foods prepared at home, kids who bring home-packed lunches also get to the lunch tables first. They have the full lunch period to eat, and will be more likely to eat those fresh fruits and veggies you packed. See how to pack lunch the bento way!
2. No time to pack a full meal? Pack half a meal. Chances are, after the first half of lunch, the lines have dwindled down a lot. If your child will have to wait in line anyway, have them wait while sitting with some friends at the cafeteria tables! Start them off with last night’s leftovers, some fruits and veggies, or a carton of milk. By the time they’ve finished, the line will have shorted enough for your child to grab the rest of his or her meal. Get the best of both worlds!
3. Or a stand-in-line snack! Take advantage of the line and encourage your child to snack on healthy appetizers while he or she waits! Try sliced apples and almond or sun butter, or “ants on a log” (celery sticks, almond or sunbutter, and raisins).
4. Kick off the day with a mindful start! Mornings can be busy. You’re getting your child ready for the bus, and perhaps you’re getting ready for work as well! Instead of breakfast on the go, turn the meal into something the whole family can look forward to. Children who rush to eat have less satiety, which may lead to overeating. Set aside 25 to 30 minutes to just sit down and enjoy breakfast without distractions, even if this is just once or twice a week. Check out these 10 tasty breakfast meals your kids will love.
5. Or finish the day off with a slow-paced end. The last moments of the day can catch anyone in a weary state from a full day. Re-centering with a family meal is not only physically healthful, but mentally, socially, and even emotionally beneficial as well! Teach your young ones to associate eating with a positive, social occasion to be savored slowly.