Time Constraints Can Prevent Healthy Eating at Schools in Calif., U.S.
Despite new federal nutrition requirements, students in California and other states still struggle to eat healthy meals during school lunch periods because of time constraints, the Center for Investigative Reporting reports.
Under federal rules enacted last year, reimbursements for school lunches only are provided to schools that serve each student at least half a cup of fruits or vegetables.
The lunches also are required to include two other types of food, such as grains and proteins.
Challenges to Healthy Eating
Diane Pratt-Heavner -- a spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association -- said that eating such foods tends to take longer and that students are limited in their consumption by short lunch periods.
"A student can eat a cup of apple sauce in no time ... [b]ut chewing through an apple takes a lot longer," Pratt-Heavner said, adding, "If we want our students to eat more salads, fruits and vegetables, we need to give them more time to consume them."
Nationally, the average school lunch period in the 2009-2010 school year was 31 minutes. However, students sometimes have to wait as long as 30 minutes to get their food, according to food service managers.
Calif. Schools Work To Increase Eating Time
Since 1990, the Los Angeles Unified School District has held a standard that students must have at least 20 minutes to eat lunch, but 70% of high schools and 50% of elementary schools fell short of the benchmark last year, according to an analysis of district data.
David Binkle -- director of food services for the school district -- said that officials are seeking to reduce by 50% the number of schools that fail to meet the standard this school year.
Other California school districts are attempting to make sure students have enough time for lunch, including:
- San Diego Unified School District, where mobile food carts have been deployed using grant funding;
- San Francisco Unified School District, where vending machines selling full meals are available to students; and
- San Jose Unified School District, where extra staff has been hired to reduce wait times during the lunch period (Lin, Center for Investigative Reporting, 8/28).