Recess First!

A looong time ago, I wrote about the idea of having recess before lunch. The idea being that when kids eat after exercising, they’re hungrier and don’t waste as much. Plus, the allure of recess doesn’t push them to skip half of their lunch.

Well, the idea recently popped up again in the form of an editorial from Laurel Anderson, of the Orfalea Foundation. It seems the California-based group has a Recess First campaign that’s part of the s’Cool Food Initiative. Then again, there’s also the Recess Before Lunch initiative.

courtesy of Orfalea FoundationUnderstandably, both efforts have the goal of improved classroom performance that comes with eating a decent lunch and having had time to cool down after playing. Yet, both also recognize the significant side effect of recess first: less food waste.

Washington State’s Ethan Bergman has studied the topic and found that students waste about 30 percent less when recess comes first. Given the better classroom performance, enhanced nutrition and–last but somewhat least–diminished food waste, why haven’t more schools switched? Inertia?

When I had the chance to speak with Bergman at the American Dietetic Association conference, he told me that the word is slowly getting out there. He guessed that the percentage of schools with recess before lunch is probably about 10 percent.

Still, that leaves plenty of room for improvement. After all, I don’t see the downside. Does anyone have experience with this topic?

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  1. Posted November 9, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    That does seem like a good idea. I don’t have any experience, though, because we eat our lunch at home every day (perk of homeschooling! lol).

  2. WilliamB
    Posted November 9, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    One problem is scheduling & availability. If the lunchroom is full from 10.40a – 1.30 p, you gets your lunch whens you can. But other than that, why not?

    FYI, I thought of you yesterday, when I went out to lunch with a friend and his child. Child ate only one piece of his skewered chicken so, since my friend didn’t want it, I packed it up with my own leftovers.

  3. Katrina
    Posted November 9, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the concept of recess since here it’s a mid-morning break around 10am where children bring a small snack and have lots of fun running around the playground.

    Then they have lunch from 12-12:45 where any time after eating is spent playing outside however the school yard monitor (an adult) doesn’t go on the playground until 12:30 so children stay inside until then. No rush to finish their food since they can’t go play until 12:30 anyway.

    Maybe east coast Canadian schools do the scheduling differently?

  4. Posted November 9, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    But Kristen, is homeschool recess before or after lunch??

    William, you’ve hit on another cause of school food waste–too little time. That can be a real logistical problem. And glad to hear you’re making use of restaurant foods…even not your own!

    Katrina, I think we’re on the same page. Where I grew up–in Massachusets–we had a morning recess (as you mentioned) and then a post-lunch recess. It’s the latter I’m talking about here. If kids have from 12 to 12:30 to eat, do you know how they tend to do in terms of wasting food?

  5. Posted November 10, 2009 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    My kids rush through eating their home packed lunches so they can get out to recess. Today I threw away/composted from their lunches:

    - One half of a lovely french/Vietnamese barbeque sandwich, (this one killed me)
    - Half of a ham and cheese sandwich
    - Half of an apple
    - Pretzels that got smashed up against the pork sandwich which had sat out at room temperature for 10 hours.

    This is hard, as sometimes they eat the whole thing, so I don’t want to pack them less than they need.


  6. Katrina
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Jonathan – a lot of kids go home for lunch around here but from what my little brother has told me kids are encouraged to trade things they don’t like with other children. They also receive “Gotcha bucks” school dollars they can spend in their school store for finishing lunch and for bringing well-balanced lunches to school.

  7. Posted November 11, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    When my son was in elementary school, sometimes I would have lunch with him. Not only did they not give them enough time for lunch, but if they bought lunch they were encouraged to take fruits and vegetables, so the kids would load up their trays with stuff, and then the recess bell would ring, so the kids would be made to throw away their food and go outside.

    They probably would waste less food if they were actually given time to eat their lunch, and not told what to take. Recess first would probably allow them more time to eat their lunch after recess.

  8. Mike
    Posted November 18, 2009 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    Orfalea need to give their money to schools. They hired employees who have zero experience with the school system. Nobody wants to say that Orfalea has created a disaster with the School Food Initiative because of the money they give to the community. Let educators do their job and educate. Orfalea should do their job and give money and stay away from schools.

  9. Posted November 18, 2009 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Mike, how has Orfalea created a disaster with the School Food Initiative? I don’t know much about them…

  10. Denise
    Posted November 29, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    My daughter is in Kindergarten, and a bit of a “dilly dallier”. I know that she will be one of the last into the lunch room, and she pokes around helping her friends. A couple weeks ago, they had a new lunch monitor who made sure that the kids who had a packed lunch brought all their leftovers home. Inside were all of my daughter’s things, except maybe half of the small cheese square I had sent.

    So in doing more research, I have learned this: as soon as the kids are “done”, they are allowed to leave the lunch area. So, when the first kid goes out, most kids want to go out, and merely throw the rest of their food away.

    And, of course, the lunch room monitors don’t have to do as much work if they just let the kids leave early, sad as that is to say. Because once the kids are outside, they are someone else’s responsibility.

    I will be forwarding your links to our school superintendents.

  11. Candace
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I teach in an elementary school, and have required lunchroom duty. It breaks my heart when I see entire trays being dumped. Unfortunately, beige trays, brown ‘chicken’ fingers, mashed potatoes, snickerdoodle cookie, aren’t all that appetizing. Yes, students want to get out to recess, but there’s no point making them sit and stare at a boring tray they haven’t touched in 20 minutes. 10 more minutes won’t make a difference. Plus, the pre-school kiddo’s are given the same amount of food that the 6th graders are served. No way can a 3 or 4 year old eat the same amount of food as a 12-year-old boy!

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