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Sign the letter

In November 2010, Katina Lillios and twenty-five others wrote the following letter to the superintendent of the Iowa City Community School District.  If you would like to add your name to the letter, please do so in the comments, or email Katina Lillios at klillios7 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Feel free to use the comments as an open thread on the topic of school lunch and healthy minds and bodies.

UPDATE: Thank you, everyone, for your comments and expressions of support. Please continue to express your thoughts below. You can read Katina Lillios’s follow-up letter to the Superintendent and School Board by clicking here.

UPDATE: There will be a public meeting on the school lunch issue with Superintendent Murley on Monday, December 13 from 6:00 to 7:30 at Shimek Elementary School. Please attend and make yourself heard! Map and directions here.


This fall, the Iowa City Community School District established a lunch period of 15 minutes for all elementary schoolchildren in order to ‘balance’ curriculum. School administrators inform us that 15 minutes is adequate for the majority of children. Those kids who need more time to finish are told they can take it out of their recess. As parents of Iowa City schoolchildren, we argue that 15 minutes is not adequate, and that such a short lunch period promotes unhealthy eating habits. 

In past years, when some of our children had 20 minutes for lunch, we routinely heard them complain that they didn’t have enough time to eat and had to throw out food. Those of us who gave our children lunches from home often found ourselves looking at a nearly full lunchbox at the end of the day – and a very hungry child. Some complained of stomachaches from eating so fast. Many have been told to hurry up their eating and not to talk. Thus, to be told by school administrators that 15 minutes is adequate is shocking, and does not accord at all with our experiences and those of our children. We consider the ICCSD a partner with us in the teaching of healthy eating habits, but these short lunch periods undermine our efforts.

School lunch periods have been steadily declining over the years and, in the US, elementary students are given between 15-30 minutes for lunch. Iowa City has now the dubious distinction of joining those schools that provide the shortest length of time for elementary kids to eat. Teachers in Iowa City are given 30 minutes; why aren’t schoolchildren given the same right to an adequate lunch period?

We understand that elementary school schedules are extremely challenging to put together. We also recognize the district’s desire to raise test scores. We acknowledge that the schools are working to provide more nutritious foods in their menus. However, administrators must provide ample time for children to eat food in a healthy manner – and treat this time as central in their scheduling, not something that can be shaved away when other needs arise. A hungry child is easily tired and irritable, and cannot learn effectively, no matter how many additional minutes of curriculum are added. 

There are also long-term consequences of being taught to eat quickly. Studies have demonstrated that eating quickly promotes overeating, because the body does not have enough time to register fullness. Overeating leads to obesity – which is now at epidemic levels in the US. In 2009, 28% of adults in Iowa were obese ( While we recognize the many educational strengths of our school system, the ICCSD is, unfortunately, also helping to create the next generation of overweight adults.

Giving the health, economic, and social problems associated with childhood and adult obesity in Iowa, and the responsibility our schools have to educate our youth, we urge Superintendent Stephen Murley to increase the lunch periods in the elementary schools to at least 20 minutes. This would send a strong message that educators in Iowa City are committed to promoting healthy eating habits and creating a more effective learning environment. We also encourage other parents and educators to learn – and teach their kids – about the relationship between eating habits, health, obesity, behavior, and learning. Our kids’ lives – and our futures – depend on it.

We urge those of you who agree to make your views known.

Katina Lillios and Morten Schlütter (Shimek)
Peter Balestrieri and Claire Fox (Shimek)
Brandi and Marc Janssen (Longfellow)
Kathy Lavezzo (Lincoln)
Anna Waterman (Weber)
Jennifer Oliver (Shimek)
Deanna Johnson (Shimek)
Doris Witt and Bluford Adams (Hoover)
Glenn Penny (Mann)
Chris Liebig and Carolyn Turvey (Hoover)
Martha Rhodes (Shimek)
Anthony Arnone and Rachael Ayers-Arnone (Weber)
Helen Neumann (Hoover)
Kathleen Reynolds (Shimek)
Cathy Stone and Arlin Boer (Shimek)
Erin and Bob Froeschner (Shimek)
Eric Gidal and Jackie Briggs (Horace Mann)
Jennifer Ballard (Shimek)
Hart Epstein (Longfellow)
Jean and James Neumann (Hoover grandparents)
Mary Neumann (auntie to Hoover kids)
Tommy Haines (future Lincoln parent)
JT Haines (uncle to Tommy Haines’s son, future Lincoln student)
Sarah Meehan (Hoover)
Bryon & Kathleen Day (Shimek)
Lydia and Danny Frazier (Hoover)
Sloane Henry (Shimek)
Martine and Dennis Dunnwald (Horace Mann)
Karen Heimer and Joseph Lang (Hoover)
Kathryn Howe (Longfellow)
Sarah Meehan (Hoover)
Patrick and Karen O’Rourke (Hoover)
Larissa Stebounova (Weber)
Heather Bartlett (Hoover)
Leah Klevar (Hoover)
Laura McMahon (Lemme)
Ben Basan (Longfellow)
Qiong Ding (Weber)
Jasmine Terrell (parent of a former Coralville Central student)
Karen Nichols
Robert Morey (Horace Mann)
Buffy Quintero and Ben Lewis (Longfellow)
Matt Olson
Jeffrey Rohn (Coralville Central)
Stephanie Burnett
Todd and Janelle Cross (Penn)
Terri Davies
Nate Legue (Horace Mann)
Jonathan Wilson (Lemme)
Jennifer Hackathorn (Shimek)
Heidi Collins (Kirkwood)
Brenna and Brad Eldeen
Missy Gaido Allen (Lincoln)
E. Ramsey
Tana Luger
Sue and Matt Whittaker (Roosevelt)
Greg Tinnes & Joy Tinnes
Paulina Zavala

86 Comments leave one →
  1. Lilian Dindo permalink
    November 1, 2010 10:05 pm

    I don’t have a child in school yet — he is still in day care. But the thought that he will have to eat his lunch in 15 minutes is just unacceptable to me. I would like to how the schools justify this? And can they show me evidence that decreasing their time for lunch leads to improvements in their education, thinking, critical thinking?

  2. Chadi Calarge permalink
    November 1, 2010 10:08 pm

    Healthy eating takes time.
    We are worrying too much about grades and setting our children up for obesity, lack of social interactions, and missing out on what matters most.

  3. November 1, 2010 10:38 pm

    Thanks, Katina, for organizing this effort. At our school (Hoover), lunch was already fifteen minutes, and this year they have cut back on recess — again, supposedly to “maximize instructional time.” I believe this is all driven by the No Child Left Behind Act’s emphasis on raising standardized test scores at any cost, which has impoverished the schools’ vision of their mission and made schools a less humane environment. (I have been writing about that and related issues here.) There is so much more to being well-educated than just scoring well on math and reading tests. I hope the school district comes to its senses on this issue.

  4. Katina Lillios permalink*
    November 2, 2010 9:21 am

    Thank you, Chris, and others, for your support on this. Sometimes, I can’t believe we are fighting for 5 minutes. But of course, we are fighting for more. Shaving away minutes, here and there, for foundational activities – such as eating (and recess) – comes at a cost: wasted food, hungry and distracted kids (who, not surprisingly, don’t learn as well and need to be more disciplined), not to mention the problem of learning to eat like a farm animal.

  5. Kim McWane Friese permalink
    November 2, 2010 11:08 am

    There is so much that is taught through the process of taking a meal. All school subjects can be taught in the dining room and the garden. Why doesn’t our educational system take advantage of the time in the dining room rather than view it as a waste of time. Adding a few minutes is a step towards taking advantage of the learning possibilities. Eating is the most basic and necessary part of the human experience, yet it is treated as if it’s the least. It should be at the center of the education we give our children, and they will be smarter and healthier citizens.

  6. November 2, 2010 11:11 am

    Many thanks for undertaking this effort. pease let us know what Devotay and Edible Iowa River Valley can do to help.

  7. Katina Lillios permalink*
    November 6, 2010 9:42 am

    Some updates (though our letter hasn’t yet been printed in the Press-Citizen):

    1) The Superintendent wrote me to say that discussions are taking place at the administrative level, but they have not determined that any actions can be taken given the current schedule… (this is not encouraging)

    2) Our son’s school was recently ‘rewarded’ by their Principal for good behavior by having their lunch turned into Cafe Shimek, with tables covered in tablecloth, candles and service provided by the teachers/staff (though – still within a 15-minute period). I realize their intent was to make eating special/fun for the kids – but the message conveyed (to me, at least) was: making eating special/fun is an extra/a reward – rather than an important feature of life. We are not asking for a fine-dining experience here – we are just asking for 5 minutes.

    To Kim and Kurt:
    Have you ever held a ‘family’ meal day at your restaurant? What I was envisioning was an event – like – Slow Food, Slow Eating- that would allow kids – and their families – the experience to eat your delicious food, but also learn a bit about the importance of slow/local food and slow eating?


  8. November 8, 2010 6:56 am

    The letter was published in today’s Iowa City Press-Citizen:

  9. Helen Goldstein permalink
    November 8, 2010 11:49 am

    I no longer have children in the Iowa City school system, but I find the idea of a 15 minute lunch hour utterly unacceptable. This issue should be raised again and again with the school board–and let’s go for a 30 minute lunch! Would it be so unthinkable to lengthen the school day by 15 minutes?

  10. Matt Falduto permalink
    November 8, 2010 12:16 pm

    Thank you for starting this conversation. I agree completely. I’m a parent of two daughters who attend Wickham. It’s been so frustrating for my girls at lunchtime. They never have time to eat all of their food.

  11. Traci Burton permalink
    November 8, 2010 12:55 pm

    I am a parent of four kids, and this has been an issue for us since my son was in Kindergarten (he’s now a Junior at City, where lunch hour is a nightmare – his 4th period is interrupted halfway through for lunch, which he never actually gets to eat because the lines are too long. He refuses to take his lunch because there is no room in his locker to store textbooks, and his backpack is crammed full).

    My three daughters, who attend Lincoln Elementary, also struggle. We’ve been working hard to pack food that is balanced, nutritious, and leaves little waste. For my 4th grader, that is half a sandwich, 3-4 baby carrots, and some fruit. We always pack water (instead of milk or juice) now because they also struggle with constant thirst through the day. (Each child is allowed to drink until the count of three.) Unfortunately, my 6th grader is a chronically slow eater — I LOVE this about her, she really savors meals and eats the way we were meant to eat, slowly and purposefully. It also allows for the reported 20 minutes it takes for the brain to receive the information that the stomach has now been filled.

    The entire situation is preposterous. Thank you, thank you, for getting the ball rolling.

  12. Karina Smith permalink
    November 8, 2010 1:52 pm

    I had no idea the children only had 15 minutes to eat lunch. I always assumed it was 30 minutes. 15 minutes is just ridiculous. My son will be in Kindergarten at Lemme next year and I really hope this is changed. I fully agree with your letter – thank you for your efforts! Let us know what else people can do to help.

  13. Ashley Shields permalink
    November 8, 2010 3:25 pm

    I work in a daycare and have children of my own. It often takes kids an hour to eat enough real food to feel full. It is very hard for young children to concentrate on eating with a group of there peers. I think 30 minutes is still pretty short period od time for kids to eat. 15 minutes is unbelievable! How did this get passed?

    Lets do the right thing for our children and their education and give the at least 30 minutes minimum!

  14. Hart Epstein permalink
    November 8, 2010 4:03 pm

    Well said. We have a five-year-old in kindergarten at Longfellow who routinely brings home a good portion of his lunch uneaten. Add my name to the list of Iowa City parents in favor of a longer lunchtime.

  15. Anne Harding permalink
    November 8, 2010 4:04 pm

    I always assumed that the elementary schools allowed 30 minutes for lunch, to find out it is only 15 minutes was shocking. Back in the 1980’s when I was a kid (I know it’s an old timer phrase) we were allowed 45 minutes. That was enough time for many of us to walk home and eat. Time for education is important but at what cost? There are so many questions to be answered.

    -Are we really helping our children be their best with this change?
    -Is society smarter as a whole because lunch is only 15 minutes, or are we just training a group to rush through all aspects of life?
    -How does this effect a generation with high numbers of children with ADD?

  16. Krista Kazembe permalink
    November 8, 2010 4:05 pm

    If you would like to see what 15 minutes to eat feels like for your kids, you should eat lunch with them. It is a real eye-opener. It’s amazing how much of the school food is thrown away (your money) or what is not eaten out of their home packed lunches.

  17. Kate Kauper permalink
    November 8, 2010 7:37 pm

    Our children are not test scores and schools should not treat them like products manufactured in a factory. A shorter, more stressful lunch period is not an acceptable solution to the schools’ scheduling needs.

  18. Katina Lillios permalink*
    November 8, 2010 8:08 pm

    Thank you all for your support and for sharing your experiences. The big question now is: what next? What should we do?

  19. helen neumann permalink
    November 8, 2010 9:01 pm

    The following people have asked me to put their names on the letter:
    Jean and James Neumann (Grandparents of Hoover kids)
    Mary Neumann (Auntie to Hoover kids)
    Tommy Haines (future Lincoln Elementary dad)
    JT Haines (uncle to Tommy’s boy Ben, future Lincoln Elementary student)

    Thanks to Chris and Katina for organizing this effort. We are at a birthday party swapping school lunchtime memories. My mom recalls walking home for lunch to eat with my grandmother at the kitchen table. Scott recalls 45 minutes for lunch. Tonight we have been talking, laughing, singing, AND eating for the past two hours. Cheers, Helen

  20. Danielle S. permalink
    November 8, 2010 9:22 pm

    (I do not have children.) When I attended Grant Wood Elementary in the 1990s, I recall that we had 30 minutes for lunch and recess, and we could use all 30 minutes to eat lunch if needed (although no one ever did it seemed like). If one did not bring their lunch from home, they had to wait in line for at least five minutes to get the “hot lunch.” If this is still the case, sounds like the ICCSD kids only have 10 minutes to eat. That’s ridiculous. No one expects any adults, working or not, to eat that quickly. I agree that kids need to have more time to digest their food and be able to socialize a little.

  21. Kathryn Howe permalink
    November 8, 2010 9:45 pm

    I absolutely support this effort and agree that the lunch period is far too short to foster healthy eating habits. My son brings home a half-eaten (at best) lunch and often remarks that he doesn’t have time to finish. Plus, I think he enjoys talking to his classmates (as well he should!) and gets caught up in that and ends up with no time to eat his meal. Children should have enough time to eat and socialize with their friends. He gets home and proceeds to gobble up a ton of food in the fridge because he’s so hungry. Occasionally, I’ve allowed him to go through the school lunch line and I’d be interested to know how much of that he manages to eat. I’m guessing his performance is better because who doesn’t love a deep-fried corndog? But I digress; that’s a different issue entirely and subject to another grass-roots effort to improve the quality of the food served through our public education system. At any rate, thanks for what you are doing. I understand that district administrators have pressures and goals to meet. But when my son started school, I was shocked to learn how little time he has for lunch. Please add my name to the list. Our son is in kindergarten at Longfellow.

  22. November 8, 2010 10:02 pm

    I think there are probably a lot of people who would be sympathetic on this issue but who have not yet heard about it. If people are looking for a way to help, linking to this page from your Facebook page, or just spreading the word to other parents, would be great ways to contribute.

    I also think it would make sense to raise this issue with the members of the school board.

  23. Joseph and Genie Patrick permalink
    November 9, 2010 12:35 am

    Although our children are now grown and living elsewhere they are alumns of Iowa City’s Longfellow Elementary, Southeast Junior High, and City High. We were stunned to read that elementary students are now being allowed only 15 minutes for lunch. We totally agree with the urgent complaints stated in the letter, urge that all its points be thoroughly considered, and recommend a recommend a reversal of this ill conceived time limitation.

  24. Renee Goethe permalink
    November 9, 2010 1:31 am

    Please reconsider. The idea that lunch should be eaten quietly, with a minimum of talk, and as quickly as possible is akin to prison rules. Kids, like adults, need time to relax and unwind with only moderate supervision. You’re taking away recess again and again, so that upper grade school levels get sometimes only one recess per day. The restriction on their free time, their free exercise, and their lunch time is distressing. Reverse this stupid decision.

  25. Sarah Meehan permalink
    November 9, 2010 7:09 am

    I have two kids at Hoover and they often complain about how they feel rushed to finish their lunch. Thanks for taking on this issue . Please add my name to the list.

  26. Bryon & Kathleen Day permalink
    November 9, 2010 7:14 am

    We would like to add our names to the list, and offer our support to this effort. It is especially alarming that our school district – in Iowa City, IA of all places – evidently is ignoring well-documented research findings which indicate that eating quickly promotes obesity. 15 minutes is certainly not enough time. 20 minutes also seems inadequate, but would be an improvement. Common sense and scientific research would both seem to point to something like 25-30 minutes as promoting physical health and enhanced learning.

  27. November 9, 2010 9:13 am

    Of course I support the expansion of lunch time. One of the best things about school – by my lights as well as by my kids’ – is that they get to spend time with friends and acquaintances. What kind of lesson is it to get kids to wolf down their food?

    Scott Samuelson

  28. Karina Smith permalink
    November 9, 2010 2:23 pm

    I was just wondering why we are asking for 20 minutes and not 30? Do you think 30 is pushing it and would definitely be rejected? I think 20 is still too short, but it’s better than 15.

    I only just heard about this due to the article in the PC, so I agree that a lot of people probably just don’t know about this issue. I’ll try to spread the word – thanks for the ideas Chris!

  29. Maeve Clarke permalink
    November 9, 2010 3:42 pm

    As a parent to a 1st grader, I wholeheartedly agree and hope the district considers giving kids longer than 15 minutes to eat lunch!

  30. Karen O'Rourke permalink
    November 9, 2010 6:07 pm

    Please add Patrick and Karen O’Rourke to your list. Our experience has been one of frustration with lunch time. Many an afternoon has begun with complaints from our girls that they did not have enough time to eat. I would think the advantage of an additional 15 minutes devoted to our childrens wellness, would promote a much more productive and successful learning environment. A shortened lunch is not the answer to academic achievement.

  31. Helene Donta permalink
    November 10, 2010 9:47 am

    I am a former Roosevelt parent. If you spend a day with a child at school, you will find an extraordinary amount of time is wasted shuffling kids from one activity to the next or one classroom to the next. It would be much more time-efficient to move the teachers rather than the kids for some subjects- for example- from math to social studies. This is what used to happen when I was a kid and it worked. These are the measures needed to restore the 20 or 25 minute lunch to the elementary school. A group of parents for each school should go to the school board and volunteer to sit in for a week at their school and offer recommendations as to how to improve learning efficiency without touching gym or lunch time. Call it the lunch task force. Propose to work with the principal on this common goal of improving efficiency.
    Report back to the board and make recommendations with principal buy-in. The Board is looking for answers that are easy to implement and principal approved.

  32. Helene Donta permalink
    November 10, 2010 9:49 am

    Oh, and when that week is spent at school observing, make a spreadsheet outling the amount of instructional time spent and the amount of non-instructional time spent shuffling. The numbers will truly be amazing!

  33. Katina Lillios permalink*
    November 10, 2010 10:04 am

    Karina: I agree, that asking for 30 could well be our goal. It just seemed harder to ask for that, at this stage, with only 15 minutes, than to ask for at least 20 minutes.

    Excellent suggestions, Helene. Having lunch task forces seems like an effective idea. The problem I see is that it will take a lot of time from parents, who I am sure are busy as it is. My gut feeling is that the decision to increase the lunch period really should come from the administration/our superintendent – and the ideas for how to implement should be in the hands of the principal and teachers (and parents if they can/want to be involved).

    As an archaeologist, I have also been thinking that someone really ought to be looking at the waste generated when kids don’t eat their food (and the money that is effectively being thrown away). I was told by our principal that the amount of food thrown out this year is no different from last year (the time was reduced this year at our school to 15 minutes), but I have a hard time believing that actual data exist. How much of that waste was packaging, how much was food, how much was left in school lunch packs for the parents to discover at the end of the day? This is a big (and rather unpleasant!) job, I realize.

  34. Sarah Hansen permalink
    November 10, 2010 2:11 pm

    I would assume that the teachers and administrators would also have their lunch times restricted to a mere 15 minutes. If the children are going to be forced to try to get through a lunch line, and gobble down their food in such an unhealthy manor. Shouldn’t the people making the rules for others to follow have to follow the same rules themselves? I would also add that since I assume the children can’t have food or drink in their classrooms that the teachers and administrators would be restricted from any food or beverages at their desks as well. When I went to school, it sometimes took 15 minutes just to get through the line to get the food. Come on adults, if your going to talk the talk, then walk the walk. As a nurse this absolutely flabbergasts me that the school board would want to teach our children, en mass, how to binge on food,and how to go all day long with very little to drink. This sets people up for dehydration, irritable bowels, bladder infections, and general restlesness causing inability to learn. How in any way can this benefit our youth?

  35. Jasmine Terrell permalink
    November 11, 2010 8:13 am

    As a parent of a former Coralville Central Kindergartener (my 1st grade son now attends school in Des Moines), I always found that he was “starving” when I picked him up from school. But his lunchbag was almost always still full. Children are easily distracted when around their peers, there is not enough teacher supervision to make sure each child is eating and not socializing, and 15 minutes is NOT adequate for a lunch period.

    Thank you thank you for starting this conversation. I hope the Iowa City School Board is willing to listen and understands that our children’s healthy eating habits are at stake.

  36. Karen Nichols permalink
    November 12, 2010 10:40 am

    Count me in! My child is only 3 and not in public school yet, but I would like this problem solved before he gets there.

  37. kim permalink
    November 12, 2010 11:15 am

    I whole-heartedly agree… 15 minutes is unacceptable and not nearly enough time for kids to finish their lunches or learn to eat at a healthy pace. Many are rushing – which adds to poor eating habits. And if they don’t get enough food – it affects their learning and behavior the rest of the day. Their little bodies need nutrients!
    However… don’t want to push any buttons that will upset anyone – but I would be interested to know how many parents have been in a school lunchroom recently? If the lunch periods are lengthened… which they should be – can the schools rely on help from parent volunteers manning the lunch rooms? Many times teachers rotate giving up their lunch periods to monitor students’ lunch… which to be honest can be very very difficult to control. The longer the kids are there… the more ‘troublemakers’ have time for inappropriate behavior, mess making, and bullying. And it only takes a very few to start disruption.
    Like I said – don’t want to upset anyone, but there is a reality to some student behavior that has helped shape the lunch periods of today. Lack of respect for teachers, peers, and lunch personnel is part of the equation.
    I’ve been in a number of lunchrooms – and it sounds easy until you have to do it.

  38. Molly Wilson permalink
    November 12, 2010 11:35 am

    I have two sons who go to Coralville Central, and they regularly come home starving. My 1st grader in particular always comes home saying he “just didn’t have time” to eat enough. I definitely think that adding more time for the kids to eat lunch would be a step in a positive direction.

  39. John permalink
    November 12, 2010 11:36 am

    I do believe that a small lunch is best but there is nothing healthy about encouraging or teaching the children to eat fast.

  40. Steffany Kroeger (Horn Elementary) permalink
    November 12, 2010 2:35 pm

    I agree.

  41. November 12, 2010 6:59 pm

    Thank you for bringing this out! My daughter is now at North Central, but when she was in elementary school, I was appalled by the way lunches were conducted! I really hope this well draw attention to the poor way lunch time is approached. We have a wonderful opportunity to teach our children healthy eating habits, but they can’t learn good habits if they are forced to eat sub-par food in 10 or 15 minutes!

  42. BECKI ELKINS permalink
    November 13, 2010 3:11 pm

    Thank you, Katrina, for organizing this petition movement. I have a son at Coralville Central. This year, he has regularly come home with half-eaten sandwiches and untouched fruits. This kid loves food – so I was surprised at this new development. When I asked him what was going on, he shrugged his shoulders and said “we don’t have time to eat.” I was skeptical…until hearing about the change in school policy. Then, I was appalled. Kids need proper nutrition and *time* to actually eat. Frankly, it’s unrealistic to expect that elementary school kids will voluntarily choose to give up their recess time. As adults, we know quite well the value of having time to eat and feeling well-nourished throughout the day. How can we tolerate anything less for our kids?

  43. Jenny Thoeny permalink
    November 15, 2010 8:39 am

    Thank you for your efforts! I’m in total agreement.

  44. Doreen Loring permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:14 am

    My daughter barely has enough time to eat any of her lunch (she’s admittedly a slow eater), and 15 minutes just doesn’t cut it. Please allow more time for students to eat their lunch and have a healthy start to their afternoons. Thank you!!

  45. Allie Gnade (Shimek) permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:21 am

    I don’t even have a kid (yet) but this is a serious issue! As children, we’re admonished both to eat slowly for better digestion and to clean our plates – and both of these are far from possible within a 15 minute window. How ridiculous! Hungry people – kids included – have short or non-existent attention spans. Many mature adults cannot concentrate with nagging hunger pains to distract them. Why would school children have an ability to learn with half-empty stomachs?

  46. Julie Broulik permalink
    November 15, 2010 10:25 pm

    I thought we came out of the dark ages when children were used as as a profit tool.

    How did it happen that a child can no longer be a child again?

    Honestly, employers of minors under age 16 are require to give them at least a 30 minute break if their shift is 5 or more hours per day. Is a 15 minute lunch a pseudo form of child abuse?

  47. Buffy Quintero permalink
    November 15, 2010 10:51 pm

    I am glad to see that a organized effort is being made to address the short lunch period. Thank you for your work!

    I brought this issue up at my son’s parent/teacher conference at Longfellow Elementary on Thursday, Nov. 11. I was told that (at least the kindergartners) have 20 minutes for lunch. Please add our names to the letter, Buffy Quintero and Ben Lewis (Longfellow).

  48. Matthew Olson permalink
    November 17, 2010 2:36 pm

    Add my name too! My son is 4 and can take 30+ minutes to eat his lunch. He is just slow and methodical. I can tell you without a proper meal he is going to be trouble. Kids need time to be social and enjoy their meal in peace for a few minutes. This is crazy and I can’t believe it’s happened here in Iowa City. Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention.

  49. Natasha Wendt permalink
    November 18, 2010 2:06 pm

    I absolutely agree. It’s shocking to me that children are required to eat in 15 minutes or be faced with the penalty of losing precious recess time. What values are we teaching our kids? My son takes his time to eat, often 30 minutes or more, which is a trait I want to foster in him. As a nation we swallow our food whole, not tasting, not savoring, not allowing our brains to catch up with our bellies. Forcing kids to eat so quickly will lead to obesity, disrespect for the privilege of having enough food, and poor habits. Iowa City ought to know better. I appreciate the fact that schedules are challenging and curriculum balance is important, but come on, people, giving our kids adequate time to nourish their growing bodies is just as important.

  50. Jeffrey Rohm permalink
    November 18, 2010 4:00 pm

    please add my name to the list
    my 2 children attend Coralville Central, and 15 mins is definetly not enough time.

  51. Jeffrey Rohm permalink
    November 18, 2010 4:16 pm

    1 Question I have to ask is this. Why do we add time to allow the buses to get kids to school and subtract time for them to eat. I mean don’t most parents work until 4-5 pm anyway? what would it hurt to have our kids in school 15 mins longer? we need to promote better life skills at school also, and letting the kids have more time to properly eat I feel is a good skill to have. I have heard that this extra time “could promote” troublemakers time to distract other students, send those kids outside to play. My son is a slow eater as well, but also would rather play outside than eat if those are the choices. i think we should spend more time making them slow down and eat most if not all of the food given to them. The portions aren’t too large.

  52. Karina Smith permalink
    November 19, 2010 10:42 am

    You can add our names to the list:
    Gareth and Karina Smith (future Lemme parents)

  53. Stephanie Burnett permalink
    November 22, 2010 12:13 pm

    I would like to add my name to the list. My daughter will be attending kindergarten next year, and I know 15 minutes would not be enough time for her to eat. Why doesn’t school start at 8AM to give the extra time needed. It would conincide with many parents who work and need to be at work at 8AM.

  54. Brad Mowrey & Meg Hillie permalink
    November 22, 2010 1:32 pm

    Our daughter is in kindergarten at Longfellow and we have been concerned about this issue since the first day of school. Glad to see others are too.

  55. Betty Kirklin permalink
    November 22, 2010 2:13 pm

    Cedar Rapids ALSO needs a longer lunch! My son does the same thing and at Nixon Elementary, the kids can’t even TALK when eating!!! I swear they get 10 minutes or less to eat! REDICULOUS!

  56. Janelle Cross permalink
    November 22, 2010 3:05 pm

    Please add us to the list. Our son will be starting at Penn Elem. next year, and I don’t believe 15 mins. is long enough for lunch.
    Todd & Janelle Cross

  57. Nate Legue permalink
    November 22, 2010 10:44 pm

    My son is a second grader at Horace Mann School. Nearly every day he comes home with part of his lunch because he’s so rushed. This means I pick up a cranky, hungry kid from school. There’s even a sign in the cafeteria counting down the minutes until recess – further emphasizing the race effect of eating. Iowa City schools need to give children enough time to eat, socialize and, if necessary, wait in line for their hot lunches. Fifteen minutes is not acceptable.

  58. Teri Snell permalink
    November 22, 2010 11:00 pm

    I have one child that could probably inhale his food in 10 minutes or less, not that it is a good thing. My other three, are more in line with the slower side of things. Not sure how my middle 2 manage to get their lunches eaten knowing that lunch is only 15 minutes long. It could take my youngest one a lifetime to get one thing eaten. If he’s not in the mood to eat, he won’t.
    I’m pretty sure that when I was in elementary school, we had at least 30 minutes. Lunch was the social time to catch up with friends, etc while you ate. Times have changed.

  59. John Hall permalink
    November 23, 2010 9:53 am

    The first thing my son says to me when I pick him up is, “I’m hungry”. Now I know why. I had no idea their time for lunch was so short.

  60. Meg Hillie permalink
    November 23, 2010 10:47 am

    My husband already signed for me above, but I wanted to add a couple notes. Our daughter has always been a slow eater, and I don’t like that she is now learning to rush herself while eating. I am packing less food for her than I gave her at preschool where she had 30 minutes, and even with less food she still rarely finishes her lunch now. Although her teacher said our daughter could stay late to finish her lunch, she doesn’t want to do this because she doesn’t feel comfortable sitting with the older children and she doesn’t want to miss recess either. I have visited her for lunch a couple times and noticed that many children aren’t finishing their lunch; many of them open a container only to eat one or two bites and then throw it away, which probably causes their parents to think they are eating more than they actually are. Also, I’ve noticed that some children who eat hot lunch start with dessert and then maybe eat one more item before lunch is over and the rest is thrown away.

  61. Deana Buell permalink
    November 24, 2010 9:40 am

    This is outlandish for the ICCSD to even consider as ‘adequate.’ They need to understand that these students will benefit from the additional time in so many ways. Kudos on the effort, maybe the board will finally listen to the parents.

  62. Terri Davies permalink
    November 24, 2010 3:35 pm

    Thank you for your efforts to bring this to the boards attention. I agree with everything and my daughter too comes home with most of her lunch untouched. Please add my name to the list.

  63. Cyrus Tamboli permalink
    November 29, 2010 11:59 pm

    I urge the Iowa City school district to lengthen its luchtime to at least 30 minutes. 45 would be even more appropriate. 15 minutes to eat luch is decidedly unhealthy for several reasons. First of all, there is absolutely no way a child can properly eat a meal in only 15 minutes. It promotes ‘indigestion’ if enough food is eaten, or as most people have mentioned, they simply will not eat enough and then eat unhealthy snacks later on in the day. This is already a problem with America’s obesity epidemic. Food chewed improperly will require considerable extra work in the stomach to be broken down (less effectively). Second, children are literally being taught that wolfing down their meal is the way to go! This will teach children poorer lifetime eating habits (aren’t American eating habits poor enough already?) Third, the system seems to reward those who can guzzle their meal fast enough by allowing some recess time, while those who are disciplined enough to eat properly (what 6 year old can do that on their own?) will be ‘punished’ by staying inside to eat. Wrong message! Surely the school system can spare 15 minutes elsewhere. This new policy seems terrible and our children will suffer for it.

  64. Aidan Manaligod permalink
    November 30, 2010 11:15 pm

    I remember in elementary school back at Weber, lunch was horrible. I only got twenty measly minutes to eat, so I would shovel the terrible stuff down my throat. And it’s not like anyone is going to stay in the cafeteria to finish an actual meal, because everyone else is being pressured and herded by the associates to go outside in the 6 degrees Fahrenheit weather for “exercise” (actually, trying to avoid freezing to death). To stay inside is to face unparalleled ostracism, at a time I vividly remember being the pinnacle of immature bullying and douchebaggery. I’m a sophomore at West, and I still have retained the “eating contest” eating habits that I picked up at that horrible place. Heck, even West doesn’t really have enough time for me to eat; the lines are so long that most people will only have about 15-20 minutes to eat.

  65. Katina Lillios permalink*
    December 1, 2010 9:05 am

    A brief update: I have been working with Superintendent Murley on setting up a public meeting to discuss the problem of the school lunch periods and what possibilities exist for change. We are looking at the evening of Monday, December 13. I’ll post the exact time and place once I know. People are listening, thanks to your help!

  66. Jonathan Wilson permalink
    December 1, 2010 6:00 pm

    15 is too short! Add me to your list of supporters. Jonathan Wilson, (Lemme).

  67. Jennifer Hackathorn (Shimek) permalink
    December 5, 2010 6:13 pm

    Thanks to Katina for recognizing and taking on this issue. I really would like my daughter to learn how to slow down in life and appreciate everything. I am interested to see where this is heading. Feel free to add my name to your list!

  68. Brett permalink
    December 6, 2010 1:41 pm

    I had two questions about this issue…
    it was said that the children can “take time out of recess” to eat. Is there a recess immediately following lunch?
    Where is the additional time going to come out of? Will the school day be lengthened? Recess time shortened? Or pull out activities eliminated? From what I have seen in other districts, normally pull out activities are eliminated to create time for other activities during the day.

  69. Katina permalink
    December 7, 2010 1:44 pm

    At Shimek, recess does follow lunch, but I don’t think this is the case at all schools. And your second question is a good one. Last year, Shimek kids had 20 minutes – so this year, 5 added minutes from lunch were added to math curriculum, I was told. But, yes, where will the time for lunch come from – or does the day need to be lengthened? What options exist – and what do they ‘cost’, in time or funds? What’s at stake, in other words? These are the questions that we will need to ask the Superintendent at the meeting next Monday.

  70. Brooke Strahn-Koller permalink
    December 10, 2010 5:14 pm

    I ate lunch with my son last year for his birthday and what was more appalling to me than the 15 minute lunch was the fact that in the middle of winter his class filed in the lunch room in full winter gear, boots, snow pants, and coats zipped with their hats and gloves shoved down the inside. We were told that there was no time to get dressed for recess so they had to sit and not only eat very quickly but do so while roasting. It still upsets me to think about.

  71. Amy Charles permalink
    December 12, 2010 2:52 pm

    My daughter attends Weber, a school we love. However, she comes home with her lunch half-eaten. Invariably, it’s because she didn’t have enough time to eat it. I have a kid who actually likes salad and fresh fruit, and asks for them in her lunch, and she doesn’t have time to eat them. I’m throwing away produce almost every day.

    It’s not like I’m packing her some tremendous meal, either. A sandwich or some pasta or soup, a half-cup of salad, a half-cup of fruit. She’s asking me now to pack a half-sandwich instead so that she can eat everything; she doesn’t want to waste food, either. By the time after-school care or Hebrew school rolls around, she’s starving, and eats whatever junk food’s put in front of her, though she really wants healthier food.

    Nor should the kids have to turn into silent eating machines in order to get through the meal in time. Meals are social events. There should be talking, should be some release from work. How would you like it if you weren’t allowed to talk at your meals?

    I’d rather see a longer school day, or year, and time to eat a civilized and nutritious meal. I miss our daycare…wonderful food, real cooking happening starting around 11 am.

    Thanks to the superintendent for making the time to meet with us.

  72. Brenna Eldeen permalink
    December 12, 2010 2:56 pm

    Please add our names to the list.

    Brenna and Brad Eldeen

  73. missy gaido allen (lincoln) permalink
    December 12, 2010 2:59 pm

    please add me to your list–i wondered why my son was bringing home half-eaten lunches…thank you for your efforts.

  74. Heidi Collins (Kirkwood) permalink
    December 12, 2010 3:38 pm

    No wonder my son comes home starving everyday. And what about children who are on the free lunch program, who may be receiving their largest meal of the day at lunch, but then don’t have time to eat it? This policy definitely needs changing.

  75. E Ramsey permalink
    December 13, 2010 2:00 am

    please add my name to the list.

  76. Jeneane O'Toole Stepan permalink
    December 13, 2010 2:41 am

    I feel that 15 minutes is way to short! I have a kindergartener who is a slow eater and likes his food. A 6th grader who has Asperger’s and it causes her to have a harder time to eat, she is already UNDERweight and not eating a complete lunch is not helping. They are both ravished when they come home from school! I can see why dinner takes forever!

  77. Christina (Central) permalink
    December 13, 2010 10:07 am

    We are experiencing the same difficulties at Central. In addition, since we do not have a kitchen at our school, the food is often not properly prepared. For example chicken noodle soup with no chicken or noodles. The lack of nutritional content combined with no time to eat is not healthy in the short term or long term establishment of eating habits. I think it is also bizarre that they have to eat while sitting in their winter coats & snow gear to make sure they are quickly out to recess.

  78. Tana Luger permalink
    December 13, 2010 12:18 pm

    I am a graduate student and will probably not have kids for some time, but I was appalled to find out that students only have 15 minutes to eat lunch. Socializing is critical in the early years, and students shouldn’t have to choose between talking to their friends and eating their lunch. Please add my name to the list.

  79. Meenakshi Durham permalink
    December 14, 2010 10:54 am

    I’m totally in favor of extending the lunch period for all the reasons explicated so well by Katina and others. This isn’t just a problem at the elementary school level, though. My seventh-grader doesn’t have time to get her lunch from her locker, eat it and make it to her next class at South East Junior High. When she’s had after-school sports practice, she has gone from morning until 5:30 pm without eating, which is just frightening. Could all the schools’ lunch policies — from elementary through high school — be considered, as part of this effort?

  80. December 14, 2010 11:16 am

    I would encourage you to write Murley as soon as possible about this concern at the junior and high school levels ( Virtually all the parents who have been involved in this effort (that I know of) have been advocating for their elementary school kids. I (and perhaps they) have assumed that the 30 minutes the older kids got was enough. And given what Murley was saying last night at the meeting, the district is looking at some system-wide changes. So, this is the time to make your voice heard.

  81. Greg & Joy Tinnes permalink
    December 15, 2010 11:15 am

    Hello, we also feel 15 minutes is not enough time and spend time trying to get our son who goes to Weber to slow down when we eat at home. Sorry I am behind on all of this but is it too late to sign the letter? We could also forward it to people in our district if that would help.

    Thank you for all your hard work – this is a battle worth fighting.

    Greg Tinnes & Joy Tinnes

  82. Matt Falduto permalink
    December 17, 2010 11:29 am


    I was wondering if you could give us an update about the meeting. I was sorry I couldn’t make it, but would really like to know what the next steps will be.

    Thanks for all of your work on this.

  83. December 17, 2010 11:42 am

    Matt — I’m sure Katina has her own take on things, but, for what it’s worth, I was at the meeting and wrote some of my thoughts about it here.

    Also, as you may have seen, Katina and the superintendent will both be on Iowa Public Radio today at noon to discuss the issue. (It sounds like their part actually starts at 12:30.) Details here.

  84. Jane Bradbury permalink
    December 18, 2010 10:57 am

    I ate lunch at Lemme with my daughter this past week. She didn’t have time to eat her lunch. We didn’t spend any time talking. The kids often wait for help (even though the helpers are great, they are so busy!) to open their milk, or have other things opened, and they do not have time to eat. She wolfed down half her banana and was going to throw the rest away. (I grabbed it and ate it). She had two drinks from her milk and I drank the rest. It was nuts. And completely unacceptable to me. She had three bites of her sloppy joe. Remember that there are also distractions to contend with. She was trying to finish her banana when the table wipers arrived and started wiping.

  85. Paulina Zavala permalink
    February 20, 2011 2:36 am

    It takes a while for kids to get their lunches in line.
    Our children should have plenty of time to eat their lunch with no rush.
    They are not in the military! I want our children to eat civilized, I don’t wan’t them swallowing their food at home because that is the way they have to eat at school.
    We expect so much from them. Now We want to chip them of their lunch. This is Crazy! Please add my name to the list.

  86. kayla permalink
    October 15, 2011 12:31 pm


    I’m about to embark on the same journey for the school systems in North Dakota. I timed my son’s “sit-down” time for his 3rd week in kindergarten… one day he had as little as 4 minutes to eat… with the most being 12! UNBELIEVABLE!!! How did this turn out for Iowa? I’d LOVE to get in touch with you to discuss this a little more.

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