373. Lunch

Children tend not to eat lunch in school. Some do get hungry, and if there is a good dessert or some kind of delicious junky snack, they’ll eat that. But the sandwich or other main course doesn’t get eaten. It ends up either getting thrown out or taken home. And the lunch box you bought around Labor Day often gets lost. There are many rewarding aspects of the parenting role, but lunch in school tends not to be one of them.
A friend (and mother of two children I taught) once told me about lunch in a British primary school. It was handled the way meals are handled in some homes. Five or six children sat at a table with one adult, and they ate a peaceful meal. They talked, but one at a time. When they finished eating (which they did), they talked some more. It was all very civilized.
Contrast that with lunch in a typical elementary school in this country. Children are herded into a large room, and they line up to buy their potato buds, white bread, iceberg lettuce, American cheese, and ketchup. Or they open their lunchboxes, which contain either the healthful lunches prepared by their parents or their parents’ compromises with or surrenders to Frito-Lay and the like. Some of the food (or “food”) gets eaten, but a lot of it doesn’t. There is an adult in the room whose job is to make sure there aren’t any major problems, and to let children go outside, which is really what they want to do, and really what the adult wants them to do.
Meanwhile, the teachers are in the teachers’ room, relatively calm. Unlike the children, they are eating food they’ve chosen relatively wisely. If a child pokes his/her head into the teachers’ room, it becomes immediately clear that
that isn’t supposed to happen. Actually, it could be interesting to have a few children per day eat with the teachers – be in the minority for a change. But then teachers would have to choose their topics and words more carefully. So never mind.
If the books I’ve read are right, the typical diet in this country is upside down. We’re supposed to have a big breakfast, a medium-sized lunch, and a small supper. More typically, we have very little for breakfast, lunch on the run, and a huge dinner that gives us the energy we need to sleep. We may have very active dreams, but I really don’t think that counts.
So maybe lunch, which has become a time for teachers and children to get a break from each other, needs to be rethought. For some children, it’s the first meal of the day. For more, it’s the first significant meal. If curriculum is everything that happens in a school, lunch is a pretty important subject, and deserves more thought.

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