Nutritionists: Longer Recess, More Non-Academic Time is Healthier

Longer recess periods could lead to healthier kids, or so goes the recommendation in the latest paper from the Center for Investigative Reporting. A longer break in the middle of the day provides benefits beyond those obvious at first glance. Yes, having a few extra minutes to run around and expend physical energy stored up during hours of sitting still in class does improve concentration in students and raises their grades. But more non-academic time offers other benefits – those that come from healthier eating.

According to Shaya Tayefe Mohajer writing for TakePart, if education officials are serious about improving the nutrition of school meals by increasing the amount of whole grains and vegetables students consume, they will need to give them more time to consume them. Swallowing a high-sugar, high-calorie snack takes seconds, but chowing down on a stalk of broccoli or an apple take longer.

Nutritionists recommend that each child get at least 20 minutes to eat their lunch, but according to School Nutrition Association’s Diane Pratt-Heavner, schools are not being nearly that accommodating.

Schools often face challenges in getting everyone on campus fed in that period of time. As classroom populations grow, so do lunch lines, but building sizes rarely expand, which means long lines form to get into cafeterias. Some schools are trying to combat that problem with mobile food carts, though they don’t always sell the healthiest options.

On average school lunches in the U.S. last 31 minutes, and when students don’t have time to make it through the lunch line, some schools are implementing grab-and-go options.

Grab-and-go will work in a pinch when the only other option is not to eat at all, but it is far from ideal, as Zenobia Barlow, director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, explains. Not only will kids not get the full nutritional benefit of a meal they eat on the run, they will also never have time to consider what they’re consuming, thus becoming better at making healthy nutritional choices for themselves one day.

Nutritionists aren’t the only ones pining for longer lunches. Cafeteria workers are also firmly in support, believing that an abbreviated meal schedule leads to poorer quality meals since everything needs to be prepared hours in advance.

With more time, “you get much higher-quality food, you get much fresher food, because it’s being cooked more to order than…scrambled eggs on the buffet that have been sitting there for six hours. The longer you stretch it out, the more personalized the service, and the quality of food is improved,” said David Binkle, director of food services at the Los Angeles Unified School District.