Longer ADULT SUPERVISED eating time at lunch for elementary school children in BC

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Children in BC elementary schools lack regulations to protect and honour the time needed to sit down and eat their lunch in a healthy way. Many schools allot as little as 15 minutes for children to wash their hands, retrieve their lunch from their locker or cubby and eat it. This is completely inadequate, especially given that this time allotted is without adult supervision. Our school system’s approach to lunchtime eating is failing our children in many ways. 

Parents are tired of throwing away large portions of their children's lunches—food wastage aside, the main concern is that their children are given less time to eat an adequately nutritious and appropriate calorie-packed lunch than adults are. Given that children are less organized and mature than adults and eat more slowly than adults, we know that we are expecting too much of children when we give them less time to eat than is regulated for adults in the workforce (30 minutes).

Parents and caregivers are tired of picking up their children, only to find them “hangry”, sometimes with a headache, and often exhausted. This often sets the mood for the rest of the day—the only time parents can spend quality time with their children during the school day. 

Children are complaining that not only do they lack adequate time to eat, but the time they are given is disrupted by children who are misbehaving. The lack of adult supervision in the classroom at lunchtime is unacceptable. Some schools try to address this by having older children take on leadership roles by monitoring K-3 classrooms at lunchtime. This is also an unacceptable practice—from the serious potential for anaphylactic allergic reactions, choking, and other medical emergencies for which these children are not trained to deal with to the fact that they then also lack time to properly nourish themselves, it is clearly the wrong approach. 

Dr. John Blatherwick, the former chief medical officer for Vancouver Coastal Health stated back in 2011 that research suggests children need between 24-35 minutes to eat lunch.  This time should not include coming in from the playground, hand washing, lunch retrieval, etc.  This time should be reserved solely for sitting down and consuming their lunch.  Parents and schools should be making it a priority to teach children to eat slowly and mindfully -- not condoning a schedule that requires eating as quickly as possible and tossing the rest in the garbage. 

Children in other parts of the world, such as England and France, are given 45-60 minutes to eat their school lunch. This ensures adequate time to eat not only a healthy amount of food at a healthy pace, but ensures that the meals themselves are healthy; it takes a lot longer for a child to eat a raw apple than it does to eat a processed granola bar.

Many BC school districts are adopting mental health strategies and mindfulness into their curriculum, which is a wonderful development.  Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for children to learn, get adequate exercise or manage their emotions and practice mindfulness if they are chronically hungry during the school day.  

One viable suggestion is to have the eating portion of lunch time count as instructional minutes every day, and have the teacher present. In addition, the outdoor playtime could be extended to 45 minutes to ensure teachers receive their well-deserved lunch break. This model would work whether or not a school employs the play first/eat after model. 

We, the undersigned, demand that the BC Provincial Government, the BC Ministry of Education and the BC Teachers' Federation work together to enact best practices to ensure that all BC children in elementary school are given 35 minutes to sit down and eat their lunch, supervised by adults. We demand that this is achieved without taking away time from their recess or outdoor/recreational time during the afternoon break.

#HungryKidsCannotLearn #LunchAtLunchtime #AdultSupervisionRequired