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Washington schools struggle to provide longer student lunch

August 31, 2019

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state auditors say schools are struggling to keep students sitting for the recommended 20-minute lunch.

The Seattle Times reports a new audit from the Washington State Auditor’s Office found that scheduling lunches could be the key to improving health and behavior in K-12 students.

“The school nutrition program is a multimillion-dollar program,” said State Auditor Pat McCarthy, “so we wanted to analyze it from different angles.”

Five states, including Washington, require a 20-minute lunch seating schedule for students — a timeline that is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Washington State Parent Teacher Association. The state auditor’s report found that students who sit for 20 minutes wasted less food, ate healthier and exhibited better behavior in the classroom.

But the report also found that students at nearly all of the 31 schools observed didn’t sit for 20 minutes to eat. Seventeen schools scheduled 20 minutes of sitting, but only one followed through.

“Elementary schools are in a unique position to influence students’ eating behaviors,” the report said. “The food they serve can improve overall student health or inadvertently contribute to poor eating habits, with unhealthy consequences in the classroom or later in life.”

Enforcing the rule can be tough, however. Teachers are required by law to have a break from supervising students, and some schools don’t have enough support staff to keep kids in their seats for 20 minutes.

Overcrowding can also be an issue. When cafeterias are designed for fewer students than they now serve, kids may spend too much time waiting in line for food rather than eating it. The budget for hiring cafeteria staffers may also be limited.

“A school may have plenty of pizza to serve, but a limited time to place it on the trays of all those students who want some,” the report said.

The report recommended that the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction clearly define the best lunchroom practices for Washington schools, including offering recess before lunch and having 20 minutes of sit-down time.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

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