Can Lunch Period Duration Affect Nutrient Consumption?

2019-02-12

The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management

Advocacy efforts for longer lunch periods, with at least 20 minutes dedicated to eating, have been around for years, but what is less known is the direct effect of a shorter lunch period on a student’s nutrient consumption. A new research study published in the Fall 2018 edition of Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, digs deeper into this issue to see if there is a relationship between time available for lunch and nutrient consumption. The study, “Time to Eat School Lunch Affects Elementary Students’ Nutrient Consumption,” investigated second through fourth graders’ over a three-day period in Spring 2013. The goal of the study was to determine whether time available for lunch impacted consumption of school meal items, particularly nutrients typically under-consumed such as Vitamins A and C, fiber and calcium.

“Because the reimbursable school lunch provides 1/3 of a students’ daily nutrients, it is important to understand if a 30-minute lunch period is adequate to allow students the recommended 20- minutes to eat, and how the lunch duration and time to eat affects not only food consumption but also nutrient consumption,” the study states.

As part of this research, a digital camera was used to photograph meal trays and provided a time stamp as to when students left the serving line and began to eat, and when trays were returned at end of period. Visual plate waste methods were used to deduct nutrient consumption.

In this study, all students had a 25-minute scheduled lunch period, which resulted in eating time ranging from 17.8 to 12.4 minutes. None of the students consumed ½ of the RDA for fiber, regardless of amount of time available to eat, yet did consume adequate amounts of Vitamins A and C, and calcium.

The findings of the study support previous reports that scheduled lunch periods of a minimum of 30 minutes may be needed in order to provide students with adequate time to get in and out of the serving line with 20 minutes dedicated to eating. When given less than 20 minutes, nutrient intake of fiber, certain vitamins and calories may suffer.

Those in operations can use the findings to make informed decisions with administration regarding scheduling of school lunch periods to ensure there is adequate time for consumption of meals.

To learn more about the research and to view the complete results, read the study, and additional research, in the Journal of Child Nutrition & Management.

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