Longer lunch breaks can spur children to eat more fruit and vegetables, according to new research.
While most kids probably don't get too excited about a plate of healthy choices, researchers have reported that when children spend more time at the lunch table, they are more likely to pick up a carrot stick or an apple.
"Ten minutes of seated lunchtime or less is quite common," said Melissa Pflugh Prescott, assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois. "And sometimes lunch periods are shared with recess. This means the amount of time children actually have to eat their meals is much less than the scheduled time."
For the study, the team compared fruit and vegetable consumption during 10 and 20 minutes of seated lunchtime within a group of elementary and middle school-aged children.
Accordingly, they discovered that while fruits were consumed at an overall higher rate than vegetables, consumption of both food types was significantly higher for longer seated lunchtimes.
"During shorter lunch periods, children ate significantly less of the fruit and vegetable parts of their meal, while there was no significant difference in the amount of beverages or entrees they consumed. It makes sense that you might eat the part of the meal you look forward to first, and if there's enough time left you might go towards the other parts. But if there's not enough time those items suffer, and they tend to be fruits and vegetables," Prescott explained, adding that longer lunchtimes can also have beneficial effects for children beyond healthy eating. "The amount of seated time children have is also a really valuable time for them to connect with their peers; they might have limited opportunities to do so throughout the school day."
Full study results have been published in JAMA Network Open.