What is the value of a good meal?

None of us like to miss breakfast, or have a late dinner because of our hectic schedules. It’s just not healthy, physically or mentally.

But what about lunch? Specifically, what about school lunch?

We are extremely fortunate in Howard County to have so many excellent educators teaching our students.

But are we mismanaging our school schedules so badly that we are degrading our students’ ability to learn?  The evidence says ‘Yes.’

In my previous blog about the Board’s retreat from its promise to start the MS and HS school day at 8 a.m. or later, I noted showing too-early school start times contribute to sleep deprivation, a significant contributor to ill health in teens.

It turns out we bring the same counter-productive approach to what should be a satisfying, nutritious break from the academic day: school lunch.

We rush students through a 20- to 30-minute lunch period which, if you factor in time spent waiting in line, becomes a mere 15 minutes to quickly down a meal and head back to class, and provides no mental time-out from their arduous school schedule.

How would you like a lunch schedule like that every day?

Worse, Harvard researchers say lack of time at lunch correlates with children choosing less milk and fewer fruits and vegetables.

It’s natural that we try to maximize learning time, but we cannot do so at the expense of diminishing our kids’ health and readiness to learn.

Our shortened lunch period is in direct contrast to countries like France which give students a 2-hour lunch break to encourage them to relax and savor their food.

It’s not like school isn’t stressful enough.  A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that 83% of teens say school is their top stressor.  Another study found that 1 in 3 children experience stress-related headaches every month and 44% report trouble sleeping.

Our students are clearly under pressure, and our scheduling decisions are hindering their development as healthy young citizens.

Giving them a real  lunch break is a great place to begin reversing this trend.

Sitting down to eat a meal with others is not only healthier and less stressful, it makes school more enjoyable and provides a relaxing and companionable break from the demands of classwork.

So, how do we do it?  With imagination and a commitment to maximizing available technologies, such as:

  • Allowing parents to pre-order from the online menu and setting up a separate pick-up line for pre-ordered lunches
  • Using hand-held point-of-sale units that charge a student’s account
  • Putting that data to work to analyze cafeteria operations, making meal time more popular, efficient and successful.

I strongly believe we need to increase our focus on the health of our students, and if I am selected for the Board, I will advocate for:

  • Finding efficiencies to reduce student time in line
  • Evaluating lunch schedules to add a few precious minutes for our kids to enjoy their meals.

What are we doing right?  HCPSS is partnering with the Horizon foundation to provide healthier lunch menus in the elementary schools. This is excellent news for our youngest students, and it’s time to extend the program to middle and high school so all students benefit.

When 21.6% of our students from low-income families rely on school lunch as their only healthy and nutritious meal, it’s critical we focus on giving them the best.

The health and happiness of our children means everything to us parents, and an enjoyable, healthy lunch break will be a refreshing addition to the quality of their educational experience.

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