Brunch at 9:45: that’s the schedule at the high school where I teach.
But when the bell rings at 9:45 at a high school in Florida’s Seminole County, it’s time for lunch, while a middle school in Queens, New York recently announced that it will be serving students lunch at 9:30 am. I’ve worked at schools that serve lunch at 11 am or even 10:30, but 9:30?
In New Orleans, Laura Fuentes packs her kids’ lunches with waffles covered in strawberries and cream cheese and PB&J pancake sandwiches. Not because her kids love breakfast food, but because their school serves lunch when many of us are still sipping our morning coffee.
Fuentes’ pre-kindergarten son sits down to lunch in New Orleans at 9:45 a.m. and her first-grade daughter eats at 10:20 a.m.
Serving lunch at brunch time is becoming increasingly common across the country. Every year, state departments of education grant waivers to schools so they can serve lunch outside a federally mandated 10 a.m.-2 p.m. window. This year there have been several hundred.
Why are kids eating lunch at 9:30?
Officials say over-crowded schools are the biggest culprit. Some cafeterias are very small and enrollment may be very large so that schools must start serving lunch early and end later to accommodate all the students.
Other schools serve early lunches for nutritional reasons. Early lunches can be the very first thing that some kids eat that day. These are the kids who don’t get enough food at home and may miss school breakfast because of timing or drop off issues.
Then there are the early-starting schools.
“Most children — and adults for that matter — function best when meals or snacks are every three to five hours,” says Sarah Krieger, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If school begins at 7:05 a.m. and breakfast is served at the school or at home between 6 and 7 a.m., then a lunch or snack at 9:30 or 10 a.m. would be appropriate.”
Luckily, an early morning lunch schedule in fourth grade won’t set your kid up for a lifetime of bad eating habits. Children adjust easily to eating on a new schedule. Krieger says that as long as parents have a plan for the family before and after school, there shouldn’t be any problems around meal times.
“Feed them when they are hungry and they will eat most anything — especially vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and fruits,” says Krieger.
Maybe, but can you imagine eating mozzarella sticks, penne pasta and roasted chicken at 9:30 am? And how do those kids make it through the afternoon when they eat lunch so early? Aren’t they famished by the time school lets out for the day?
What do you think? What time did you eat school lunch?
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