Congresswoman Kim Schrier, M.D., D-WA, Eighth District) was joined by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, D-ORE., to introduce the Healthy Meal Time Act, a measure that would provide schools with best practices for scheduling lunch and recess to ensure that students have enough time to eat and reduce food waste.
“As a pediatrician, I know how important it is for children to eat healthy foods and get some energy out at recess,” Schrier said. “But the schedule most schools use puts lunch before recess. Students rush through lunch to get to recess. Some skip lunch because of long lines. Putting recess first makes time for both, and evidence shows they eat even more food and healthier options if they’ve had a chance to run around outside before lunch. It makes sense that children should build up an appetite first before lunch. That way they are able to focus on school and not worry about being hungry later in the day.”
“Lunch is critical for the health and well-being of students because it gives them the nutrition they need to reach their full potential,” said Rep. Bonamici, chair of the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services. “I’m pleased to be working with Congresswoman Schrier on the Healthy Meal Time Act to support long-overdue research, guidance, and best practices for schools to boost learning with appropriate meal times.”
The Healthy Meal Time Act directs the Department of Agriculture, with input from the Department of Education, to do a study that will share successful efforts and best practices with schools. It is unclear how many schools provide students adequate time for their meals, and no federal guidelines on this matter exist.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that students have a minimum of 20 minutes to eat lunch each day. Likewise, a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that lunch periods of at least 25 minutes were found to improve students’ nutritional intake and limit food waste. A study in the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management found that having recess before lunch results in students consuming more food, eating healthier food, and wasting less.
“Thanks to the work of community groups, educators, parents and legislators, students increasingly have access to more fresh foods and nutrition-rich meals at school, but far too many of them do not have the time during the school day to even eat their lunches,” added AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Our food service workers, paraprofessionals and teachers tell stories of some students starting lunch at 10:30am, while others don’t get lunch break until almost 2 p.m. By the time students get into the cafeteria and go through the cafeteria line, most only have about 15 minutes to eat, forcing them to rush through meals simply because of poor school scheduling.
“Representative Schrier’s Healthy Meal Time Act will allow districts to gather additional information about the time lunches are served and the duration of lunch periods at schools, as well as when recess is combined with lunch time, making it easier for adults to partner on solutions so lunch breaks don’t fall by the wayside,” Weingarten said. “We fought and continue to fight to provide our children with healthier meals at school; this bill will make sure they can actually have time in the school day to eat them.”
The Healthy Meal Time Act has been endorsed by Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Heart Association, American Federation of Teachers, Center for Science in the Public Interest, National Education Association, National Parent Teacher Association, School Nutrition Association, and United Fresh.