"Many children, especially those from low-income families, rely on school meals for up to half their daily energy intake so it is essential that we give students a sufficient amount of time to eat their lunches," said lead author of the study Juliana Cohen, adjunct assistant professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, US. Each day, over 30 million US students receive a free or discounted meal thanks to the National School Lunch Programme.
The researchers wanted to examine the effect of lunch period length on students' food choices and intake. They looked at 1,001 students in six elementary and middle schools, with lunch periods ranging from 20-30 minutes, in a low-income urban school district in Massachusetts. They analysed students' food selection and consumption by monitoring what was left on their plates at the end of the lunch period.
It was found that students with less than 20 minutes to eat lunch consumed 13 percent less of their entrees, 12 percent less of their vegetables, and 10 percent less of their milk than students who had at least 25 minutes to eat. While there were no notable differences between the groups in terms of entree, milk, or vegetable selections, those with less time to eat were significantly less likely to select a fruit. Also, there was more food waste among groups with less time to eat.
The study appeared in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.