A new study has revealed that kids who have longer lunch breaks eat healthier that kids who have shorter lunch breaks. Best thing about the findings is that schools don’t even have to change their menus.
After trying to persuade kids to eat healthier by hiring fancy chefs, experimenting with playful and appealing food shapes, and designing amusing lunch boxes, field experts have now suggested that simply making lunch breaks longer will get kids to make better choices.
A team of US researchers came to this conclusion after they looked at little over 1.000 elementary school and middle school kids from the Boston area and studied their eating habits. They noticed that the more time students had to eat, the more fruits, vegetables, and milk they put on their lunch trays.
One of the six (6) schools involved in the study only gave its students a 20 minute lunch break. The problem is that about 10 minutes of this time is spend walking to the cafeteria and waiting in line when they finally get there. This leaves students with very little time to eat.
Two (2) other schools involved in the study had 25 minute lunch breaks, and the remaining three (3) had 30 minute lunch breaks. As some teachers finished class a little earlier when kids had to go eat lunch, the time that kids had to eat ranged from 10 to 33 minutes, with the average eating time being almost 24 minutes.
The researchers could clearly see two (2) big trends. The first one was that the less time students had to eat, the more unlikely they were to add fruit to their lunch. But when students were allowed to have at least 25 minutes to eat, 57 percent (57%) of them chose to add a serving of fruit to their lunch. And the number dropped down to 44 percent (44%) when students had less than 20 minutes to eat their lunch.
While the researchers could not offer undeniable proof that short lunch breaks cause kids to opt against fruit servings, they stress that the pattern is clear and that they don’t believe the kids’ choices are random or coincidental.
One possible explanation is that when kids have less time to eat, they tend to pass right by the fruit because they want to “rush through the lunch line to maximize their amount of time to eat”. On top of this, kids in this situation may also recognize that they “have less time to eat and therefore only selected foods they were likely to consume”, foods that they prefer.
The second trend was that the more time kids had to eat, the more food they ate. If the students had 25 minutes or more to sit at the table, they ate an average of 77 percent (77%) of their main dish. If they had between 20 and 24 minutes to sit at the table, they ate an average of 70 percent (70%) of their main dish. And if they had 20 minutes or less to sit at the table, they ate an average of 64 percent (64%) of their main dish.
What’s more, longer lunch breaks meant that kids happily ate 47 percent (47%) of their vegetables, and that they happily drank 73 percent (73%) of their milk.
For comparison, short lunch breaks meant that kids only ate 35 percent (35%) of their vegetables, and that they only drank 62 percent (62%) of their milk.
The new study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Merrimack College (Massachusetts), and Project Bread (a nonprofit organization based in Boston).
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