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Posted on Mar 3, 2010 in Poll | 38 comments

Poll: How long does your schoolkid have for lunch?

Poll: How long does your schoolkid have for lunch?

Got Bento wall clockOne issue we’ve run into since my son started kindergarten is the shorter time available for him to eat his lunch.

At preschool the children sat three to a table, and the teachers circulated, encouraging everyone to finish their entire meals during the leisurely lunch period. But now at kindergarten the children sit at one long table together, which has got to be more fun but distracting. Couple that with a shorter time to eat, and more bentos are coming back unfinished. (At least they have recess first, and then eat! If it were reversed I think a lot more would go uneaten.)

I look at this as even more reason to pack a bento lunch, so Bug isn’t wasting time waiting in line for cafeteria food and can just dig right in in the short time available. I’ve also been steering away from packing food that I know takes Bug longer to eat, like soup. I can only imagine the challenges for parents of picky eaters!

What about you? How long do your schoolkids have to eat lunch? (If you have multiple kids, go ahead and take the poll multiple times, answering once for each child.) What kind of issues have you had with the time allotted for school lunch, and how have you adjusted your lunch-packing accordingly? Let us know in comments!

How long is your child's lunch period at school?

  • 26-30 minutes (27%, 215 Votes)
  • 16-20 minutes (22%, 178 Votes)
  • 21-25 minutes (16%, 126 Votes)
  • 15 minutes or less (10%, 83 Votes)
  • 41-45 minutes (6%, 52 Votes)
  • 46 minutes or longer (6%, 49 Votes)
  • 31-35 minutes (6%, 46 Votes)
  • 36-40 minutes (5%, 37 Votes)
  • no set time limit (2%, 19 Votes)

Total Voters: 805

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Poll voting closes at midnight Pacific on April 2, 2010. Bento-themed merchandise like the “got bento?” wall clock are available at the Lunch in a Box store on CafePress.

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  1. This is a current annoyance for me. For although the kids are allocated a lunch/recess period of 45 minutes, they only get 10-15 minutes to eat. A lot of the food I give them for lunch gets eaten in the after after school.

    Our school doesn’t have a designated cafeteria. The kids eat in the classroom and then go out to play. The teachers are often so keen to be rid of them, they push them out before they’ve finished their meal.

    In their favor, the teachers do allow the kids to snack during class. this means a bento lunch is even more important because it means small snacks that won’t disrupt the class flow.

  2. I’m a senior in high school myself.
    We get a 20 minute lunch with no recess (of course, haha). I wish it was longer… we have harder classes and I feel like we need a longer mental break than younger children.

  3. I am running into the same problem. My kindergarten daughter tells me that her teacher didn’t let her finish the rest of the bento. (I imagine there is a moment when the teacher says it is over) I have also noticed that when I pack two bento boxes (one for fruits and another for the main dish), she runs out of time. This week, I have been packing only one box and so far, they have come home empty. It is interesting you mentioned not sending soup for your son. On Monday, my daughter said she wanted just miso soup and when I picked her up she said didn’t have time to finish it… All the tofu I had added was also still at the bottom of the container…Until you mentioned, I never thought soup would be a longer kind of food to eat for my kid. At her Montessori school, they start preparing for lunch at 11:45. They pick up trays, wash their hands in small groups and sit at clusters of classroom tables to eat their lunch brought from home. I will ask next week when lunch time ends at our parent teacher meeting…

  4. I’m a college student, so probably not your original intended subject, but nevertheless I take a bento to school a few times a week, so I think it applies!

    My problem is that my schedule on certain days has me in one class from 10:00a-11:45a, then another from 12:30p-4:30p. I have to drive from one to the other, so factor in a ten minute drive, plus time to find parking, get into the building and get up to the fourth floor, and my “lunch time” becomes practically nonexistent! The first day of that schedule is what brought me back to bento lunches–I knew that going 7 hours between eating just wasn’t going to work for me!

    Since I don’t have a “cafeteria”, I get to my afternoon class as quickly as possible, and eat in the few minutes before class begins. I’ve made a habit of packing things I can eat quietly, in case my meal overlaps the beginning of class by a minute or two (I’ve checked with the professor and he understands, thankfully!), so no very crunchy items like carrot sticks or crackers. Also, as I’m eating at a table where other students have their books and other items, I’ve made a concious effort to pack foods that can be eaten very neatly, which rules out soups and foods with very messy sauces.

    My food is generally pretty western and I don’t have much time to make food art, but learning about bentos from this site has totally saved me! Now I eat a healthy, tasty and convenient to carry lunch instead of toting around bulky rubbermaid-style lunchboxes or wasting money (and calories!) on fast food. Not to mention, there’s just something so satisfying about sitting down to a neatly packed bento during the middle of a hectic day!

  5. My 4th grader and 11th grader both have 30 minutes for lunch. My 4th grader has gotten into the bad habit of eating at breakneck speed in order to finish his lunch so he can socialize. They eat at long tables in the cafeteria. It’s so bad that we have to make it a point at the dinner table some nights to tell him to eat slowly. We always pack both of their lunches because even a simple sandwich is healthier than most of the stuff they serve in the cafeteria, not to mention the long lines at the high school one.

  6. We have so had this problem! My son had lunch first (with 20 minutes total lunch time, not all of which was spent actually sitting at the table), then recess in Kindergarten. I don’t think he ate any lunch at all during the whole first half of the year. At a table with 20 kids, none of whom get to go outside until everyone’s done eating, doesn’t really help either (most of the kids just didn’t eat, then nagged everyone else to get done fast so they could go out). My son came home in such a bad mood I could hardly stand it most days.
    Now in 3rd grade they’ve finally decided to have recess first. Finally, most of his lunch gets eaten during the day, and he has the rest as a snack right after school.

  7. Although I don’t have kids myself, I answered this poll based on the length of the lunch period at the high school at which I teach.

  8. I often hear “I didn’t have time to finish my lunch” … when, in truth, I’m being told “I didn’t like it/want it enough to eat it” and I need to make adjustments to the lunch. One teacher has told me she’s amazed by all the little containers I send for lunch – I guess as opposed to the other kids’ lunchables (ick) …
    That said, I recently had a conversation with the school principal about the benefits of recess BEFORE lunch .. detailed here:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/health/26well.html

  9. My son only has 20 minutes for lunch and no recess. He almost never finishes his lunch because he also wants to socialize with his friends. I read an article recently about how in France kids get an hour long lunch and they get a 3 course meal!

  10. My First Grade daughter gets about 20 minutes for lunch but is very social and doesn’t prioritize eating over socializing. I’ve had to let her teacher know that she needs reminders to eat or everything will come back with just a few bites taken out of it. She is a vegetarian so I usually send her with a bento and she’ll get pizza hot lunch on Thursdays and the occasional hot lunch that is meat free (grilled cheese etc).

  11. I gave up on packing bentos for my daughter. Not only do they just get 20 minutes, but she’s so slow at eating that she doesn’t get much down even if she did have a longer time. I got tired of spending a lot of time packing something nice for her, and then ending up with it returned at the end of the day mostly uneaten.

  12. I have similar problem with my ‘kid’ (54 and 6′ plus). He’s a sociable Texan with a short lunch break so packing for time and nurtrition is a challenge. I use a lot of your ideas for kid-friendly lunches. Added challenge is he works nights so I am packing a lunch almost 24 hours ahead of time.

  13. I’m constantly amazed by how little time kids are given to eat. When I was growing up we had 30 minutes for lunch then another 20 for afternoon recess in 1st-5th grade which wasn’t great, but better than the 15 or so my niece has to eat. We also had a 20 minute morning recess with snack and lunches delivered to classrooms so the buyers didn’t have to wait in line though so I suppose I went to a strange school.

  14. ^ditto Nicky. As far back as I can remember, I had something like 40 minutes for lunch and play, give or take 10 min. I’m amazed that kids get so little time now. For me, 15-20 min to eat lunch even now is kind of rushed.

    I didn’t have snack time or delivered lunches though. That’s pretty awesome.

  15. @1 from Lyvvie: Hmm, interesting that the school allows in-class snacking on lunch leftovers. Still, if they had the kids play first and gave them a little longer to eat, maybe it wouldn’t be such a necessity…

  16. When my son started school, he had a hard time finishing his lunch in the time alloted, but was much better the year after. They get about 15-20 min. then go outside. I often see kids with lunch items in their hands at recess (apples, potato chips).
    At 10:50, they have a snack, which is one item from their lunch. Lunch is at 12:20. I think they can drink whenever they want to.

    Now my daughter has started and although a fast eater is having a hard time budgeting her time to get her lunch finished. She might finish after school and I’ll get them their dinner early. I try to go for quality over quantity like dried fruit, nuts.

    Cathy: will have to read that article now.

  17. I think it is daft that children get so little time to eat… how can we expect them to manage through the afternoon’s lessons! My mum works in a primary school here in the UK and they get 50 minutes for lunch and no child is allowed to leave the lunch hall to play in the first 20 minutes. This school isn’t in a very good area and most of the children have very poor lunches but it can often be the only decent meal they get in a day. Most kids take between 20 and 30 minutes to eat and then go out to run around… why do we feel the need to steal the fun of childhood?

  18. Biggie – the poll wont let me vote more than once for multiple kids.

    So, I answered for my 1st grader – they have a combined lunch/recess with lunch served first. That’s a mistake in my book, because most of the kids just bolt down enough to get the edge off their hunger and race outside (they can go out whenever they are “done”). I’ve been there at lunch, and the lunch room is usually cleared out in 15 minutes or less. My girl and a few friends are usually the last ones out – and they don’t finish their meals.

    For my preschooler – at a Montessori preK, she gets about 20 – 30 minutes. It depends on the day and type of meal the class is experiencing (picnic day, sit down fancy meal, regular lunch). She usually finishes . . .

  19. I hate the shrinking lunch periods. When I was teaching middle school, the kids only got 20 minutes for lunch and that included bathroom breaks and standing in line to get their food. There was no recess. If the kids bothered to eat at all, they just shoved the food down their throat as fast as they possibly could.

    We now homeschool our only school age child, but prior to transferring him home, he also only had 20 minutes to eat lunch, although he did get a 20 minute recess. Recess was after lunch, but they whole grade went to recess together at the same time, so at least they weren’t rushing faster to get outside.

  20. When I was still in high school, my lunch period was 54 minutes. But with 2000+ students all at lunch at the same time, the cafeteria and a la carte areas were always clogged. I tried to pack my lunch as often as possible, but when we were running low on lunch foods at home, I often went without food, which wasn’t good since I’m diabetic. In junior high, lunch was done in several periods so that it wasn’t as busy and everyone got the chance for food.

    I don’t know how long my brother’s lunch period is, but I do know that he always has time to eat and still go to recess. I’m about positive he gets around 35-40 minutes.

  21. @20 from Kelly: Hmm, sorry about not being able to place multiple votes in the poll — I think I’ve fixed it for new votes. You might try deleting any cookies from lunchinabox.net in your browser, and/or clearing your browser cache.

    BTW, I agree with you and the other commenters about having recess BEFORE eating lunch, not after!

  22. I’m a kinder-2nd grade teacher/aide at our Montessori and we have the same issue. When my twins were coming home starving from kindergarten, I got them to finish it in the car on the ride home. Our solution at school (no cafeteria & eating together in the classroom) is that we do “ambiance”: turning out the lights, playing classical music and lighting candles on the tables. When the candles are lit, there is no talking unless asking the teacher for help. By the end of the year, all of the students learned to eat in those 30 minutes.

  23. Our high school gets forty minutes to eat- I’m rather surprised most get twenty!

  24. My kids lunch at different periods, the 2nd graders eat at 10:55!! No wonder they’re starving by 3:30! The K class eats next, but each group gets less than 24 minutes to down their lunch. At home my K’er is SO pokey I wonder how much he actually eats at school. I try to pack all the corners of their bento boxes and often end up with leftovers returned to me. I know they can eat this much food given enough time!! Frustrating!!

  25. When my son was in high school, he technically had 30 minutes, but that included transfer time, so it ended up being much less time with his butt in a lunchroom seat.
    He usually organized his own lunches from home. Even so things would sometimes come home partially eaten.
    Thank the maker for ice packs as that usually kept things healthy even if they were eaten as afternoon snack.

  26. The school allots them 25 to 30 minutes, but that includes getting them in, getting the food, eating, cleanup and playing.

    Actual eating time is less than 15 minutes and that means my daughter eats half a sandwich and the rest is eaten on the way home.

    They do get a snack in class, but really, how can they expect kids to eat that quickly? And they wonder why kids are overweight? They train them to inhale easily eaten foods quickly and then fuss that kids eat unhealthily. I know at my daughter’s school the puddings and desserts get eaten first because the kids know they won’t have time to get to them.

    So we have them scarfing snack cakes and puddings for lunch. How healthy is that? And the kids who get the school lunch? They get five minutes to eat the greasy pizza or the soggy burger and they never look at the limp salad or the slimy canned peaches.

    My older son’s school sent home a note saying they were offering healthier fair in the form of a salad bar. My son said that it was a big bowl of dressing soaked soggy lettuce and none of the kids ever touched it because it was just nasty.

    He is in high school now and I send his lunch every day. He tries to eat it all, but he really only gets about 15 minutes to eat, so he finishes it after school.

    I understand that we need sufficient instruction time in school, but healthy food and time to eat it are important too.

  27. I’m a high school senior from a private school in the Philippines and I’m surprised how short lunch time for a lot of students.

    We get 30 minutes of recess and an hour of lunch everyday. How time for eating and time for other activities is divided depends on the student

    As for me, I eat lunch and do my homework at the same time during academic days. Now that we are done with lessons I eat lunch during recess and use the lunch period to sleep in the room where we practice.

    I have no qualms with the food offered in our cafeteria. We don’t have a lot of fruit and vegetable meals, but they’re not full of junk either.

  28. I cyberschool my 7 year old, so I chose ‘no time limit’ because we make our own schedule (and an hour wasn’t an option in the poll ;)), but I don’t give him an indefinite lunch break. I give him about an hour or until he loses interest in eating – whichever comes first. He has ADHD, so he tends to daydream and pick at his lunch unless I’m on top of him reminding him what he’s supposed to be doing. His first couple of two hour-long lunches taught me he needed a slightly more strict schedule. ;)

    Once he’s washed his hands and brushed his teeth, we put his leftovers in the fridge and he can finish them during his afternoon break later in the day or during story hour after school work.

    Chrissi, Cyber School Mom

  29. Since I don’t have children (and am in college) I put how long I had to eat in high school. We had 50 minuets (but I went to a small-ish school and we only had 2 lunch periods anyway, not 4 or 5)

  30. At my daughter’s school, parents are allowed to join them for lunch at cafeteria so I took an advantage of that and I was astounded with the amount of food that is being wasted (hot lunch and bento/sack lunch both) because they are too busy talking (girls) and/or goofing around with food (mostly boys, daring each other to eat their own concoction i.e. pasta with chocolate milk poured on and etc). I saw it on TV one time that some school in GA, they put a stick at the end of the each table and as soon as last kid gets seated, lunch monitor comes around and place the red cup and place it on the stick. When the red cup is present, kids are NOT ALLOWED to talk but 5 min later, monitor with stop watch comes around and replace it with green cup, and kids are allowed to converse. Principal at that school said this policy seems to be working. Interesting concept but I am sure some people think adults are controlling kids way too much and luch is the only time kids can socialize. But I think staying silent for 5 min is a good compromise.

  31. My 1st grade daughter sounds like Chrissy’s child. Two hour lunches are not out of the norm for her, so the 20 or so she has at school are tough. To top it off she’s underweight and gets weak if she doesn’t eat so I feel doubly pressured to make sure she’ll eat what’s in her bento. I agree Biggie, there’s not enough time for them to wait in line for the school lunch, home packed meals are better for so many reasons. I find I’m more successful in getting her to eat if I pack larger items, like a soy wrapped hand roll with veggies, rice, etc, I think once she’s picked up an item she’s more likely to finish it.

  32. I’m a college student now, so thankfully I can schedule time for lunch or pack myself food…

    But I have to add, I feel like I developed a lot of bad eating habits starting in 6th grade, as a result of school lunchtime.
    Before 6th grade, my mom always packed lunch for me and I had plenty of time to eat it (I don’t remember exactly how long lunchtime was, but I was a really slow eater and I remember always having time to finish my lunch).
    Starting around 6th grade, my mom was no longer able to pack lunch for me, so I started buying cafeteria food for lunch. That was combined with a shorter lunch time (I think 20 minutes) at my middle school. So I learned to race to the cafeteria, pick up whatever food could be handed out the fastest, and stuff it into my face as fast as I could so that I would have time to chat with my friends, as that was my only socializing time. Lunch was pretty much like that from 6th grade all the way up through high school. Considering that I was shoveling in food that was not exactly wholesome almost everyday, it’s not surprising that the thinnest period of my life was in elementary school. :(
    I’m losing weight now though, which I mostly attribute to cooking more for myself and making time to eat slower.

  33. My 1st grade daughter sounds like Chrissy’s child. Two hour lunches are not out of the norm for her, so the 20 or so she has at school are tough. To top it off she’s underweight and gets weak if she doesn’t eat so I feel doubly pressured to make sure she’ll eat what’s in her bento. I agree Biggie, there’s not enough time for them to wait in line for the school lunch, home packed meals are better for so many reasons. I find I’m more successful in getting her to eat if I pack larger items, like a soy wrapped hand roll with veggies, rice, etc, I think once she’s picked up an item she’s more likely to finish it.

  34. Mine get about 6 minutes crammed into space that the trays overlap. He doesn’t have room to open his lunchbox and they make those who bring their lunch go through the line with the free lunchers – the food smells so bad that by the time he sits down he won’t eat – so as soon as school is out hes sitting on the lawn having “lunch” while he waits to be picked up —– It is just pathetic that this is the best they can do —- mindless government rules and cuts – make nightmares for schools. Even lunch is now governed.

  35. At my elementary/middle school, we had 15-10 minutes for lunch. At my high school, we have 45 minutes. We have block scheduling though, with 4 loooonnnngggg classes a day. And no after-school activities, (weird art magnet) so club are during lunch. Lunch is a pivotal moment in the day, with socializing, clubs, eating, doing homework (we get A LOT) we need a longer lunch.

  36. i think that school lunches should be 1 hour long because at my old school no one would be fule because we only had 15 minutes to eat every day i would come home hungery. the school i am at know we get 45 min but all the class is talking and never gets there in work done so if we have an hour we will have plenty of time do talk and then they hopfully wont talk in class. my friends come in class and just talk. so if we get longer lunch we will pay more ATENNTION.

  37. Let me add my perspective as a first grade teacher who used to have to do lunch duty once a week. It was my absolutely least favorite duty to do because the kids never wanted to eat the healthy and nutritious foods that their families lovingly packed for them. Students would load up on chips, cookies and other snacks at recess that their families packed for them OR that their friend’s families packed for them. By the time they got to lunch, they were not hungry. Students spent more time talking and playing at lunch time than actually eating (we had long bench tables at our school). Students would claim to be full after eating three bites of their food, but I knew that this was probably not true and also that their parents would be upset if they didn’t eat their lunch. So I would have to beg, bargain, and plead with children to eat their lunches. “How many bites?” was a common question and it drove me nuts because what I wanted to say was, “Just eat until you are full,” but then they wouldn’t eat anything. I had to negotiate how many bites of fruit and veggies had to be consumed before they were considered done. All in all it was a draining experience. Try to give teachers some slack; it is not easy to get a roomful of young children to eat healthy and nutritious food, especially when they see their friends eating junk. Parents, please help teachers out by not sending bags of chips and cookies you think they are going to eat after they eat their “real” food. I had a strict rule that those kinds of foods could not be eaten until after lunch but I was the only teacher at my school who did and it was not easy enforcing the rule despite my best intentions. Teachers are trying their best but it’s very different with your own children versus a room full of other people’s children.

  38. I don’t have any kids, but my little sister gets about 35 minutes for lunch at her high school, and where I work, we only get 30 minutes for lunch. Not enough time to eat and get anything done unless you multitask during lunch. :(