Richmond parent Judie Schneider is spearheading a petition calling on the province to extend lunch eating time for students at B.C. elementary schools. (Facebook photo)

“Hangry” kids prompts petition for longer lunch time at B.C. elementary schools

Parent concerned school lunches are coming home uneaten and kids hungry and tired

A Richmond mother’s petition about “hangry” children and the need for longer lunch times at schools is resonating with parents throughout the province.

Judie Schneider’s petition on change.org calls upon the B.C. Ministry of Education and the B.C. Teachers Federation to work together to ensure all children in B.C. elementary schools are given 35 minutes to eat their lunch, supervised by adults.

“We demand that this is achieved without taking away time from their recess or outdoor/recreational time during the afternoon break.”

Schneider began the petition in response to the 17-minute eating time allotted to students for lunch at her son’s elementary school. She says the short eating time isn’t enough, resulting in packed school lunches coming home largely uneaten and kids coming home hangry (hungry and angry).

“You spend the rest of the afternoon playing calorie catch up,” explained Schneider. “You’ve just fed them at 3:15 p.m. and he ends up staying up a lot later at night because he didn’t eat a great dinner, he’s hungry at 8 p.m. and he can’t go to sleep. So I sit there feeding him more food to try and get him full and to sleep and he hasn’t gone to bed on time and it’s a vicious cycle.”

Schneider says a minimum of 35 minutes for lunch, supervised by an adult, would not only give kids more time and opportunity to eat, it would help instill a healthier approach to food.

“Recognizing when you have to eat more, or less, and enjoying your food and making mindful choices – this is the biggest new change on the Canada Food Guide…,” said Schneider. “So here we are, creating a schedule where children have to scarf back their food as quickly as they can, and the parents who are in the know now have to start packing lunches they know their kids can eat in that amount of time… and we all know it takes a lot longer for a child to eat an apple than a processed granola bar. So it’s affecting even the choices of food we’re sending with our kids.”

Read more: Column: Making school lunch preparation less painful

Read more: B.C. kids not eating enough fruits and veggies at school: study

Lunch eating times in North Okanagan-Shuswap School District #83 are around 15 minutes and Carl Cooper, the school district’s director of instruction, curriculum and innovation, thinks students would find themselves bored with any more time than that.

“My reaction to that is just the behaviour challenges – I think you’d be fighting boredom issues,” said Cooper. “When I’ve been in a classroom and watching kids eating, most of the kids are done in probably 10, 15 minutes, and for some kids who are quick eaters and stuff, they’re looking around and they’re like, ‘what’s next?’ Thirty-five minutes I don’t think would be a good model at all.”

Cooper says in his 20-year experience as principal, the issue of kids not having enough time to eat seldom came up. And when it did, he would check it out for himself at lunch the following day.

“I actually didn’t see them not finish their lunch when I was there, probably because of the adult supervision part,” said Cooper. “My experience when I’m sitting in class has often been that students who don’t finish their lunch, and that does happen, is primarily because they haven’t gotten to it. They’re socializing or visiting or doing things like that. But I haven’t had the experience where students haven’t had the time to sit and eat their lunch. Fifteen minutes in my experience is fairly substantial.”

It’s been three weeks since Schneider initiated her petition (nearing 10,000 signatures). In that time, she says she’s heard from lots of other parents with similar experiences, seeking guidance on what to do in their school district.

“People are even contacting me from Alberta and Ontario,” said Schneider. “I had a woman reach out from Calgary asking me how can she do this in her region… And I said, well, I haven’t been successful yet, but certainly you can start doing the same thing I’m doing and start lobbying the province to change it.”

Judie Schneider’s petition can be found on change.org, titled: Longer Adult Supervised eating time at lunch for elementary school children in BC.

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