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“So much of school is a constant race of getting ahead in a continuous circle,” writes VOX Media Cafe reporter Leila Tolbert. “Lunch gives students and teachers time to re-energize and come back to class well rested and eager to finish out the day.”

Did Someone Say Lunch?: The Importance of Longer School Lunch

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My favorite class is lunch. It always has been and it always will be. I wake up in the morning excited for lunch. Going from my local public school where we had assigned lunch seating and twenty minutes to shove down our plate of processed cafeteria food, to my current school, the Atlanta Girls’ School, where we have an hour to eat anything, anywhere, with anyone, has been the best part of my high school experience. A school is a place for work and to learn discipline, therefore, schedules in many schools reflect this idea.  It makes sense for schools to make the most out of students time by shortening lunches to twenty to thirty minutes. But is it really the healthiest for us?

I want to start by asking you to think about what you pack or eat for lunch. Depending on your lunch period length, it probably varies between you and me. When I was in public school, my diet consisted of one fruit roll-up, a CLIF bar, a Hot Pocket, and a pack of Doritos. I packed my lunch this way because by the time I would get into the cafeteria (five minutes late because I was washing my hands) I’d only have 15 minutes to eat. I could shove down my lunch in five minutes and then get an extra 10 minutes to socialize with my friends before going back into class. I think the biggest problem with this picture is that no one should be able to finish an entire meal in five minutes. If I had been given at least 45 minutes, I would have been able to pack a homemade meal with fresh foods to thoroughly enjoy rather than pack poor quality foods that were easily accessible. 

According to the Public School Review, around 35 million kids eat cafeteria food in America today. Cafeteria food needs to be quick and accessible. With this in mind, it takes twice as long to eat an apple rather than apple sauce for instance. But school lunches have to make choices in budgeting and time. How can a student even function properly without fueling their body with nutritious necessities?

The best part of lunch isn’t even necessarily the eating part, it’s just nice to have a brain break and converse with friends. So much of school is a constant race of getting ahead in a continuous circle. Lunch gives students and teachers time to re-energize and come back to class well-rested and eager to finish out the day. Longer lunches give students time to get ahead on work, finish work, receive tutoring, discuss current events, bring in new creative ideas with face-to-face conversations, or take a nap.

America runs off of this idea of constant work to become one’s greatest self, but it is unnecessary if that comes at the expense of mental and physical health? This past year’s bell schedule for Druid Hills Middle School only allowed students to eat for twenty-five minutes and based on several stories from my personal connections, by the time students got out of class, washed their hands, and waited in line to get lunch, it left them with only ten minutes to eat. There is scarce information on efforts being made by Atlanta Public Schools regarding any type of upcoming change for extended lunches. There are instances, however, in other states, where schools are making efforts to change lunch schedules. An example of this is at Arundel High School in Gambrills, Maryland. They have increased their lunch period to fifty minutes for the mental and physical development of their teens. There’s so much more exploration that can be found in giving students free space in their day rather than cutting out of a longer lunch period to fill with unnecessary class time and busywork. Knowledge comes from learning, wisdom comes from living. 

Lunch in American society is overlooked, sometimes even skipped. Why is it that in other nations, specifically in Spanish cultures, a leisurely and relaxing lunch (known as siestas) holds such great importance? Although siestas are considered a form of cultural luxury because historically they have been used and considered necessities to restore energy levels in hot climates, today, they are used to break up workdays and foster family and friend engagements. Now I’m not saying schools in America need to adopt this commonly embraced Spanish tradition. But asking the question of why our culture has strayed so far from other cultures to only allow their students for twenty minutes to eat, puts things into perspective. 

My friends and I eat outside everyday rain, shine, tornado, or hurricane. We have picnics on the backfield and do homework together to get it out of the way. An hour gives us plenty of time to prepare ourselves for the rest of the day but also uplifts school spirit. With a longer lunch, I now feel no need to dread going to school. There is no reason why schools should take away time from the most important class of the school day. 

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