In the Minneapolis public schools, we are supposed to have 15 minutes to eat, which would be bad enough. But realistically we get only 10 to 11 minutes (we have been timing it).
Having to rush to eat is part of the reason for the obesity epidemic, eating disorders, indigestion and kids not doing well in school. There is research that proves all of these points. Kids just need more time to eat at school.
Rushing to eat high-calorie meals at school, or at home, is the cause for the gastroesophageal reflux. This is often called heartburn. Heartburn feels bad -- the symptoms are burning in the chest, overall chest pain, burning in the throat, difficulty swallowing, food sticking in middle of the chest or throat, sore throat and cough.
School-age children especially need nutrition, but we are the ones who don't get a choice about how long we get to eat. We are growing and have to get energy. In middle school especially, our bodies need energy, because middle-school kids are going through puberty. It is essential that we get enough time.
Younger kids, meanwhile, tend to eat much more slowly. That means they eat less in the time allotted and behave poorly for the rest of the day.
When about a third of American children and adolescents are overweight or obese, the schools shouldn't be adding to the problem. But they are, perhaps unknowingly. Research shows that eating fast causes people to consume more calories and enjoy the meal less.
There are also problems with kids being underweight. Those children just use lunch to talk, instead of having time to eat and talk.
Lunch is an important social time. Teachers always tell us to socialize at lunch and recess, not in the classroom. But we cannot do that if we are scarfing down our lunches in 11 minutes.
And at recess nobody can socialize or run around if they are hungry or we feel sick. Lots of kids stay in classrooms during lunch so they have time to actually eat and socialize.
Pretty soon nobody will be going to the lunchroom or recess. We don't have time to eat there; by staying in our teachers' classrooms, we do.
The Minneapolis public schools apparently have a district rule against eating outside -- this was told to us by our lunch and recess lady. She said it was because we would litter.
Our friends helped us come up with multiple ways of being able to eat outside. We could set up tarps by the field or in an unpopulated area with the same trash systems as in the lunchroom (fall and spring).
Another idea is have one teacher or staff member stay in the lunchroom with kids who need to finish eating, so they can stay in and finish (winter).
"I need time to eat," says Ella Johnstad, a sixth-grader at our school. "People always say you will have plenty of time, but if kids get school lunch, they have to wait like 5 minutes in the line. The line to go into the lunchroom takes a long time, too."
Connor Snowdon, also in our grade, agrees: "We should get a half-hour, and the behavior of other kids shouldn't take away our time. If you wanted to eat your entire lunch, you wouldn't have time to talk to your friends."
Almost no one finishes what he or she gets to eat. That means a lot gets thrown away, wasting food. Food waste affects many things in our world. It wastes much more than food; it wastes the time and energy it takes to make the food product. That is a sign that we are hurting our planet.
The reasons for having longer lunch times are obvious when you think about them. Weight, indigestion, waste and everything else just shows how inefficient and hurtful our lack of time is. We need change.
Talia Bradley and Antonia Ritter are sixth-graders at Seward Montessori School.