When Delavan-Darien High School slashed its lunch period in half in February to comply with state regulations for instructional minutes, school officials said students still would have enough time to eat.
The former lunch period was 46 minutes, plus five minutes passing time before and after. Now the lunch period is 20 minutes, still with five minutes passing time before and after.
Principal Mike Cipriano said the former lunch period was generous. A half-hour is typical of most high schools, he said.
That matches what experts consider an adequate amount of time for students to eat lunch.
Eating is only part of the equation; traveling, cleaning up and socializing are other factors.
And some say schools need more than “left over” minutes to avoid student problems in the afternoon.
Neither state nor federal regulators dictate how much time children should have to eat lunch, but a couple groups offer guidance. The state Department of Public Instruction recommends about 20 minutes for students to eat lunch. The School Nutrition Association recommends about 30 minutes.
Jennifer Johnson, a registered dietician with Nutrition and Health Associates of Janesville, said between 20 and 30 minutes is about right for most children.
“It takes 20 minutes to feel full,” she said. “As you’re eating, it takes your stomach that amount of time to relay that feeling to your brain.
“Twenty minutes is fine if you’re just sitting down and eating.”
But there are other factors that play into what’s considered an adequate amount of time for lunch.
Eating is only a small part.
According to a 2001 study by the National Food Service Management Institute, students needed seven to 10 minutes to consume their food. They spent 10 to 34 minutes at the table.
Getting to the cafeteria, going through the lunch line and cleaning up also are parts of the total.
Perhaps most important—and hardest to regulate—is the amount of time needed to socialize.
Having time to talk and laugh between bites and sips plays a big role in how quickly children eat, Johnson said. Children who eat too fast could suffer indigestion and heartburn after lunch, which could distract them during class, she said. At the same time, children who spend the whole lunch period socializing instead of eating could suffer hunger pangs later, which also could distract them.
“How little is too little and how much is too much—it’s hard to say,” Johnson said.
Abbreviated lunch periods have been a growing concern for parents and nutritionists.
As schools devote more time to classroom instruction to ensure students fare well on standardized tests, the time students spend away from their desks—whether in the cafeteria for lunch or outside for recess—is downplayed.
“Lunch gets whatever’s left over,” said Tina Hudy, food service director for the Delavan-Darien School District.
Hudy recognizes the importance of providing students with a comfortable eating environment.
“What adult just goes into a room and sits and eats their lunch without having someone else around to socialize with?” Hudy said.
She said the lunch period provides students with a necessary break from the rigors of the school day and refreshes them for their afternoon classes.
The Janesville Gazette asked students at four area schools to keep track last week of how much time they had to sit and eat lunch—not counting time in line or time to and from the lunchroom.
-- Delavan-Darien High School: Two students eating cold lunch had an average of 15 minutes. One student wrote the comment: “I don’t eat hot lunch because the lines are too long.”
-- Beloit Turner High School: Two students eating hot lunch had an average of 17 minutes.
-- Badger High School: Two students eating cold and hot lunch had an average of 21 minutes.
-- Milton High School: Two students eating cold and hot lunch had an average of 24 minutes.