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Parents say 15-minute lunch breaks at school leave their children hungry

Parents say kindergarteners are allowed only 12 to 15 minutes to eat lunch at school — and say their hungry children are suffering from stomachaches and weight loss as a result.

According to a petition launched Thursday by two mothers whose children attend schools within Washington state’s Kent School District, kindergarteners have only 30 minutes for lunch and recess combined: 15 minutes to walk to the cafeteria, use the restroom, retrieve their lunchboxes or stand in line to order food, eat their meals, and clean up, and then 15 minutes to enjoy recess before heading back to class.

“I don’t know about you, but I would find it challenging to do all those things, as an adult, in just 15 minutes,” says the petition titled, “Child Hunger is Unacceptable — U.S. kids need 25 minutes for lunch.” “In reality, most of these children are finding themselves with less than 10 minutes of ‘seated time,’ which I find to be completely unacceptable,” state the petition’s organizers.

Petition organizers Kristine Crawford and Brindi Matava say their 5-year-old daughters often return from Glenridge Elementary School ravenous. “Yesterday, after school, I opened her lunchbox and my kid had only taken a few bites of her sandwich — everything else I packed was untouched,” Crawford tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “So, she ate her lunch, dinner, and ice cream. It’s sickening — for many children, lunch is their only solid meal.”

Kristine Crawford says her 5-year-old daughter has no time to finish her lunch at Glenridge Elementary School in Kent, Wash. (Photo: Courtesy of Kristine Crawford).

On Tuesday, Matava understood the problem. “I visited my daughter during lunch, as part of a school event, and everything was so rushed,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The kids walked in the lunchroom at 12 p.m. and by 12:10, a lunch monitor gave them a two-minute warning to clean up.”

Melissa Laramie, the director of communications and public affairs at Kent School District, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Matava’s visit was unique. “There was a miscommunication between staff supervising the lunch transition,” she says. Laramie also provided a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle, which read:

“Glenridge Kindergarteners do have 20 minutes for lunch each day and 15 minutes of recess. In addressing concerns of one parent this week, we did find that time had been cut short on a particular day. This can happen when classes arrive late to the lunch room or another class takes longer to clean up.  As our youngest learners settle into their first year in school and learn to get organized, leave the classroom, and transition to lunch we continue to work with them and our adults to ensure they receive adequate time for their meals and for recess.”

“If any of our students do need more time and request it, our staff accommodate them,” said the statement. “We know that when our children regularly eat balanced and nutritious meals, they concentrate better in class, participate more enthusiastically and, most importantly, learn better. And that is why we are here, to support the teaching and learning of each and every child in Kent School District.”

Matava says the principal acknowledged her complaint. “He reviewed video footage of the lunch period for that day and the 12-minute time stamp,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “He handled it gracefully and apologized.”

Still, feeling pessimistic and noting her daughter’s recent weight loss, the mom has pulled her daughter from Glenridge, choosing to homeschool instead. “Why do I have to choose between my daughter eating and attending school?” she says.

Crawford says the problem isn’t limited to her school district. “I’ve received hundreds of messages from parents and public and private school employees, who agree that lunch period is too short,” she says, blaming state laws that are too vague.

According to Washington state law, “The school breakfast and school lunch periods shall allow a reasonable amount of time for each child to take care of personal hygiene and enjoy a complete meal,” but the definition of “reasonable” is open to interpretation.

However, a 2015 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that allowing kids 25 minutes to eat lunch results in healthier choices and satiated kids. And, as the Atlantic reports, better nutrition helps kids stay alert in class and earn higher grades.

“We’re not asking for a two-hour lunch break,” says Crawford. “Just an extra 10 minutes.”

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