Earlier School Lunches in Florida Causes Controversy

By: Michele Wolfson

We've all heard of breakfast for dinner (aka "brinner", which is awesome), but lunch at 9.30 A.M. sounds a bit early, no? The Florida Department of Education has waived the federally required hours to organize lunch between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for certain schools that serve breakfast between 6:20 and 7 A.M.  Food school directors feel 9:30 A.M is an appropriate time to serve lunch since the students start their days so early.

While many of us are just beginning to sip on our morning cup of coffee at this hour, students in Florida are eating pepperoni pizza and cheese burgers at the same time and are calling it lunch. Some students say they aren't even hungry at that early of an hour, but are forcing down their meal because they don't want to get hungry later on in the day.

Many parents are less than thrilled with the several hundred waivers that were granted to Florida schools this year. "I think that's crazy," said Lisa Sexton, a mother of student Michael Freeny who eats lunch at 9:28 am. "They should give them something in the middle of the day." She told the Orlando Sentinel she eats around noon even though she leaves home earlier than her children.

Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, but some students are not eating breakfast because lunch starts so early. And at schools like Winter Park in Florida, the cafeteria doesn't serve breakfast food for "lunch" at the early hour -- offerings are the same as if students were eating in the middle of the day: burgers, fries, taco salads, barbecue subs, pepperoni and cheese sandwiches.

Does this unusually early lunch have a harmful effect on kids? Some parents say yes because their children come home from school ravenously hungry and are eating too many meals throughout the day. Nutritionists told the Sentinel that eating lunch at 9:30 A.M. isn't harmful as long as they aren't eating too much during the day and their food choices are healthy. Most teachers and other school officials have been reported to be sympathetic to the student's hunger pains and often allow them to snack during classes, so nutritionists and food-service directors don't feel that the bizarre eating schedule is too hard on students.

While the extreme eating schedule isn't pleasing to everyone, students in other schools are suffering because they aren't being served lunch until 2 P.M. That's the case at some middle schools, including Avalon Middle, where one lunch begins at 2:07 P.M.

Maybe the answer to this controversy would be to push back the breakfast hour to the student's first period of class. Schools in California have moved breakfast out of the cafeteria and into the classroom and feel that the switch has saved money and minimized waste. Student attendance and performance have improved, and school nurses are treating fewer students for stomachaches.

Photo: UGA College of Ag 

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