Eat. Play. Learn. T is for TIME

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

T is for TIME

Let’s be honest: Many school cafeterias are not conducive to a pleasant dining experience  (that’s why few adults want to eat in them). Many barely give kids enough TIME to eat and drink what’s on their tray. I have been in a few school lunchrooms with the feel of a prison – adults patrolling the aisles, prohibitions on talking to your friends, and stoplights when things get “out of hand.”

The most important question about school breakfast and lunch meals is how do we get the food into kids? My manta is that is it only nutrition when a child eats or drinks it. If school food goes into a trashcan, it’s garbage, not nutrition.

If we want children who are well-nourished and ready to learn, we have to create more positive and pleasant mealtimes in schools. If we truly believe that school nutrition programs are critical for children’s overall health, we have to give more TIME and attention to HOW we feed children in school as well as to WHAT we feed them. Here are three tried-and-true tips for getting more fuel for learning into students and less food into trashcans:

  1. Schedule recess before lunch. Research shows that the best sequence for children is playing first, then eating, and finally learning in the classroom.
  2. Establish reasonable ‘eat-tiquette’ expectations. Like anything else in school, children can learn to behave well in the cafeteria.
  3. Provide TIME to eat and adult role models. Create a comfortable cafeteria where administrators, teachers, aides, parents and grandparents want to eat with kids.

We need a new approach to HOW meals are served in school cafeterias. The “herd-em-in/herd-em-out” mentality is not the path toward healthful eating habits. If our goal is competent eaters who make smart choices for lifetime health, we have to do better.  We have to allow enough TIME for children to eat in pleasant, positive places, like this dining room in MacFarlane Park Elementary Magnet School, Tampa, Florida. Every child should have at least 15 to 20 minutes of seat TIME to enjoy a school lunch.

MacFarlane Park Elementary Magnet School located in Tampa, Florida

MacFarlane Park Elementary Magnet School located in Tampa, Florida

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