With 15 Minute Lunch Periods, Iowa Kids Experience Really Fast Food

Filed under: In The News

school lunch picture

Got milk? Better be able to down it fast. Credit: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Slow down. Chew your food. There is no need to inhale those chicken nuggets. You have ... 15 minutes?!

Change of plans. Commence snarfing.

Children at elementary schools in Iowa City, Iowa are learning a whole new definition of fast food; their lunch period is only 15 minutes long.

That really peppers some parents' potatoes, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports.

Chris Liebig, one outraged parent, tells the newspaper his three daughters usually don't finish their lunches.

"They come home hungry and often end up taking out their lunchboxes and finishing lunch as we walk home at 3," he says.

The Gazette reports a letter protesting the short lunch period has been signed by 55 parents and sent to Superintendent Stephen Murley.

Murley, who has two children in elementary school himself, tells the newspaper that district officials will study parents' concerns as well as some of their suggestions -- such as tacking on extra minutes at the end of the school day.

Gee, that sounds easy, doesn't it?

Not quite, Murley tells the Gazette. What parents and students often fail to realize is that the school day is like a delicate jigsaw puzzle. Longer elementary school days have a cascade effect on junior highs and high schools, affecting bus schedules all around, he tells the newspaper.

Still, parents point out, older kids get 30 minutes to eat. Younger students don't even get a full 15 minutes to eat because the 15 minute lunch period includes time spent standing in line, Murley tells the Gazette.

As kids in Iowa City shovel food down their throats, they envy those lucky so-and-sos nearby in Cedar Rapids. The Gazette reports kids 30 miles north average lunch breaks of 20 to 30 minutes.

That's right in there with the national average, according to a 2009 survey by the School Nutrition Association, which reports that most kids in the country get about 25 minutes for lunch.

And, of course, there are consequences. Shorter lunch periods mean less nutrition, Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, tells the Gazette.

"Kids often eat their favorite thing first, and if they don't have enough time to eat all their meals, sometimes it's the fruits and vegetables that get left behind," she says.

Katina Lillios, an Iowa City parent and anthropology professor at the University of Iowa, has another concern.

"I would argue if you have a hungry child, you have a child who is unable to actually process effectively or efficiently that classroom material that you've been giving them in that stead," she tells the newspaper.

Terry Dervrich, the principal at Shimek Elementary, is not so sure. She tells the Gazette recess follows lunch, and students are always at liberty to finish their lunches rather than go out and play.

Show of hands. How many kids would rather finish their vegetables than hit the jungle gym?

Still, Dervrich insists this isn't a big problem.

"I see our system working well, or I would be working really hard to change it," Dervrich tells the Gazette.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.