If that period between classes where kids get to sit down and eat an actual meal is just a little longer, students would then be able to consume an entire healthy meal that would give them enough energy for the rest of the day.
A new study found that students who take their school lunches in under 30 minutes finish less entrées, vegetables and milk, compared with those who are given a longer lunch period and are therefore not as rushed.
Researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health conducted the study to find out what the effects of lunch period lengths were to the food choices and consumption of students. Findings were published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Every school day the National School Lunch Program helps to feed over 30 million children in 100,000 schools across the U.S., yet little research has been done in this field," said professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School Eric Rimm, who is also the senior author of the study.
The team's study involved 1,001 students from six elementary and middle schools in Massachusetts, along a low-income, urban school district. The students' lunch periods varied from 20 minutes to half an hour. The study was conducted under the Modifying Eating and Lifestyles at School (MEALS) Study which is actually a collaboration of the University with Project Bread.
Food selection and intake of the elementary and middle school students were analyzed by the researchers, by looking at what the students left on their plates after every lunch period.
For students who take their lunches in under 20 minutes, the researchers found a consumption of entrées 13 percent less, vegetables 12 percent less and milk 10 percent less. Students who took their lunches for 25 minutes or more consumed more entrées, vegetables and milk. The researchers also looked for a significant difference among the participants when it came to entrée, vegetable or milk, but didn't find any. They did notice that students who took their lunches in less than 20 minutes were least likely to eat a fruit. Of course, more food was wasted by students who had less time to take their lunches.
"Many children, especially those from low-income families, rely on school meals for up to half their daily energy intake, so it is essential that we give students a sufficient amount of time to eat their lunches," said adjunct assistant professor at Harvard Chan School's Department of Nutrition, Juliana Cohen, who is also the study's lead author.
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