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They Say: Lunch and No Play Makes Jack a Hungry Boy

By Madeline Holler |

recess-then-lunch-school-nutritionIn a twist on this era’s obsession with getting kids to eat less, an elementary school in New Jersey is trying out a new way to get kids to eat more.

At least at lunch. Teachers and administrators wanted kids to eat more lunch.

The strategy isn’t to offer more gold stars or cookies or extra time at recess. Rather, they’ve taken one simple step: altered the schedule. Recess is now before — rather than after — lunch.

The result?

Much less food in the trash, more (good) food in bellies and students who can focus on the afternoon’s curriculum.

From the NY Times:

Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.

“Kids are calmer after they’ve had recess first,” said Janet Sinkewicz, principal of Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J., which made the change last fall. “They feel like they have more time to eat and they don’t have to rush.”

The first school to try this nine years ago, North Ranch Elementary in Scottsdale, Ariz., saw immediate results. In the first year of recess before lunch, visits to the school nurse drop by 40 percent.

They also noticed kids were ready to learn in the afternoon, since lunch served as the post-recess cool-down period, which saved 15 minutes every day of trying to settle back in to academic work.

Logistics aren’t easy — there’s washing hands and putting away coats, etc., etc. , and, despite the good results, lots of schools won’t be bothered with figuring out solutions. No administrator in the article touted the schedule change as a key in improving test scores, which shouldn’t be — but often is — the only motivator for improving school life for kids (that and lawsuits). Still, those who have tried it have no regrets.

So simple! So healthy! Personally, I think this is genius.  And it makes sense. I don’t know what your experience has been, but I was (and continue to be) stunned with the amount of food my third-grader doesn’t eat for school lunch. She doesn’t eat more because she’s always in a rush for recess, and why wouldn’t she be? She’s been working and thinking and sitting and reading for hours. She needs to let loose. Consequently, lunch is a frenzy of getting-it-over-with and as a result, she’s starving by time school is over.

I smell an agenda item for next month’s parent meeting!

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Photo: NY Times

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “They Say: Lunch and No Play Makes Jack a Hungry Boy

  1. [...] Recess Before Lunch Makes Jack Better Boy [...]

  2. LogicalMama says:

    We started this at my child’s school this year and suddenly everything in his lunchbox is gone when he comes home. Before, when recess was after lunch he and his friends were far too excited about what they were going to play to eat. Now, they’ve played, are hungry and eat their lunch! Yay!

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