The majority of elementary schools in the United States have a lunch period followed by recess, but according to research from a variety of sources, such as a 2013 report from the National Education Association and several follow-ups — including one from Utah’s Brigham Young University — this is all wrong.
“All the studies show when they go to recess first, food waste goes down, calorie consumption goes up, more milk gets drunk, which for students coming from backgrounds of poverty, that’s a big deal for them,” said Frank Schofield, the superintendent for Logan City School District. “There are a lot of managerial and health benefits for students for making that switch.”
Schofield said the district hasn’t performed any testing to see if schools could make the switch, but Quichee Stallings, a mother of three elementary and pre-school aged children, said she would love her school to adopt the changes.
“I actually think it would be good. Right now, I feel like they eat lunch too soon, and they come home really hungry afterwards,” Stallings said. “They’d be eating more fruits and vegetables, and the nutrients would be going into their bodies instead of half the food being wasted.”
Stallings isn't the only person in her community to feel that way. Retired elementary teacher Cheryl Alder first broached the idea with the principal at Adams Elementary when the research became public. The school never went any further with testing the theory because of how much planning was needed for such a "drastic change."
"For me, it was more of a 'look at all this food getting thrown away' thing," Alder said. "It would have been nice to try it and see if they would have eaten more and less food would be thrown away, because I know there's so much thrown away."
Schofield was the principal of an elementary school in Sandy when these reports initially came out. He said there were several local schools testing the change and some made the switch permanently.
“One of the biggest challenges is just the physical layout of the cafeterias,” Schofield said. “Some schools are not physically set up to do it very well. That was the problem we ran into at the school in Sandy — the physical layout of the cafeteria in relation to the hallway going into the school and the exit of the playground really got jammed up if you tried to come in off the playground.”
Schofield added 60% of students enrolled in Logan City School District come from a poverty background. He said in some cases, the bigger issue is school lunch may be the only full meal of the day for some students.