Mother Jones has picked up on an outrageous report out of Minnesota, where two elementary school students claim they're given a measly 10 to 11 minutes to eat lunch. 10 to 11 minutes! Let's break that down. That's one to two minutes getting served food with highly questionable nutritional content, another minute trying to squeeze a seat in at the cool-kid's table. Finally, these sixth graders are given a whopping seven minutes to socialize -- and do I dare say, enjoy themselves -- and, oh yeah, carefully chew and digest their food. School administrations might shave off another minute if they switched to edible packing, allowing students to avoid a trip to the garbage by saving their trash for an afternoon snack.
Fast eating among US students is an unfortunate nationwide norm. The School Nutrition Association, whose mission it is to educate and empower its members to provide healthy meals for children, estimates students have on average 25 minutes to eat lunch. Cost restrictions are equally as tight. Even with new federal guidelines, which provide more funding for fresh and healthful foods in cafeterias, schools have less than $3.00 per a student to spend on mealtime. That's roughly the cost of large cup of coffee at your local Starbucks.
Dubbed "the incredible shrinking lunch period" by one University of Iowa professor and public-school parent, the problem's cause can be traced to the No Child Left Behind Act, which has put unmanageable pressure on administrators to hike-up standardized test scores. Lunchtime, with all its valueless non-learning, is primed to be chopped.
But these efforts are full of empty calories. On her food blog, Karen le Billion, author of French Kids Eat Everything, argues the cut isn't worth it:
But do you really think Americans will take a cue from the French? Bad eating habits are as American as apple pie. A double-deep-fried apple pie on a stick. And we'll be damned if our children don't eat poorly, too!If we are giving our children a short lunch break, we are teaching them that food is an inconvenience, and eating is an interruption in the day. We encourage them to gobble their food, when the research shows that eating more slowly is healthier. In fact, the French spend longer eating...because they believe that it's important to teach kids to eat well -- it's a life skill, like reading.
The fast-food industry can rest assured knowing Big Macs and buckets of KFC aren't likely going out of fashion anytime soon. The only thing they should fear is heart attacks killing off all of their customers.