How long is your child's lunch break? In France they get 2 hours…

My post a couple of months ago about the long lunch break that French kids get (between one and a half and two hours) elicited a lot of great responses. By Ministry of Education regulation, French children spend a minimum of 30 minutes eating (it’s often more), and then usually have at least an hour to play, if not more. Read the original post here.

Now that we’re back in Vancouver, my daughter’s lunch period is one hour long, including 10 minutes to eat. Yep, 10 minutes (from 12:00 to 12:10 in the school schedule, to be precise). Call me crazy, but I don’t think this is enough time.

Learning doesn’t stop in the lunchroom, in my opinion. If we are giving our children a slow lunch break, we are teaching them that food is an inconvenience, and eating is an interruption in the day. We encourage them to gobble their food, when the research shows that eating more slowly is healthier. In fact, the French spend longer eating, but eat less–in part because that ‘fullness feeling’ (satiety signal) needs about 20 minutes to get from your stomach to your brain. But the French also spend longer eating because they believe that it’s important to teach kids to eat well – it’s a life skill, like reading.

They also believe that eating is a wonderful social time which kids can enjoy (and that eating together creates a ‘positive peer pressure’ environment in which kids are more likely to eat well, and try new foods). Here’s a lovely quote from the school website in the town of Versailles (yes, home of the castle):

“Mealtime is a particularly important moment in a child’s day. Our responsibility is to provide children with healthy, balanced meals; to develop their sense of taste; to help children, complementing what they learn at home, to make good food choices without being influenced by trends, media, and marketing; and to teach them the relationship between eating habits and health. But above all else, we aim to enable children to spend joyful, convivial moments together, to learn a ‘savoir-vivre’ (which roughly translates as ‘know-how about life’, or ‘life skill’), to make time for communication, social exchange, and learning about society’s rules–so that they can socialize and cultivate friendships.”

Food for thought.

After chatting with Amber Strocel, she posted a thoughtful discussion of school lunches on her blog. She included some great ideas and examples of strategies that schools are using. Should we put playtime before lunchtime, so kids aren’t rushing out the door to the playground? Should we extend the lunch hour, or count part of the lunch break as instructional time for teachers? Check out her blog for some great ideas about what we might be doing differently. My next blog post will explore what we might do about this, focusing on what the Slow Food movement and the school reform movements might learn from one another.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts, and hopefully inspiring examples about what innovative things schools are doing to make that kids are learning how to eat well, as well as what to eat.

22 thoughts on “How long is your child's lunch break? In France they get 2 hours…

  1. This is unusual in a UK secondary school I think. My son, in Year 9, gets 50 minutes lunch break. If you want to buy cooked food from the canteen then you have to queue which can take time. You have the option of brining a packed lunch instead if you wish. Once you’ve eaten the rest of the time is your own to play/hang out etc.


  2. I was horrified when I read about the legnth of time your children get to eat lunch in Canada. Here in England at my daughter’s primary (elementary) school they have a one hour lunch break. They have lunch first and then go to play. They have a choice of having a cooked school lunch, (cooked in school by the school cook), or bringing in a packed lunch. My daughter does a mixture of both. The cooked school lunch menu is available of the school website and works on a 3 week cycle. There is no choice – other than being able to opt for the vegetarian choice, (but you must state this when you pay for the meals at the begining of the week)- and you get a main course, bread and pudding or fresh fruit. The children are encouraged to eat up their food and stickers are given sometimes if you eat eerything. This applies to the children who bring packed lunches too. They are given half-an-hour to eat and have to stay in the dining room at the table for at least 15 minutes before they can go out to play. I just don’t think that it’s possible for younger children to eat their food in 10 minutes and they must miss out on the social side of eating as well. My daughter often takes the full half-an-hour she’s allowed because she so busy chatting with her friends. This is what eating is about, it’s a chance to interact with others.


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  4. The school I attend gives 16 minutes for lunch (no recess) and 2 minutes to bet books. The period before lunch ends at 11:50 then you get your books then wait in line for food. Then you get to eat. That leaves 8 minutes to eat, go to the bathroom and socialize.


  5. I live in England, and I’m in Year 10 (equivalent to 9th grade in USA). My school gives 20 minutes for lunch – just to eat, there’s no recess. My primary school gave 1 hour for lunch; you started with eating and could eat for as long as you wanted before going out to play. Other secondary schools do give longer than mine, however!


  6. Hi, I grew up in Czech Rep. We had in elementary school (until grade 9) school kitchen with tables and chairs, cuttlery and porzellan plates and cups. We got warm soup, tea and warm lunch but not the kind of fast food. Now the kids have choice of 3 warm meals, some are vegetarian, some kids like sweet meal… , soup and tea. The parents load them chip card and they just swipe. The cost is approx. 26 cad a month. Before and after school care is about 13 cad a mth. The school starts at 7:30, for small kids until 12.00 later until 13.00 and older kids have sometimes afternoon classes 2 hours. The lunch follows after school without time limit, but the school kitchen was open from 11.30 to 14.00. My kids go to school in Toronto, Ontario. They call caffeteria actually gym which is changed during lunch time to lunch room with picnic tables, in some school they just sit on the floor and call it picnic. They have 10 min for lunch to eat from their lunch box, if they dont forget it in the classroom, dressed in snow pants, because the rest of one lunch hour they have to spend outside until windchill – 28 or – 30 C. Due to this, my kids want sandwiches, because they have no time to eat, sometimes they come home hungry, because they could not eat. Very often they get sick, not even when we asked the school principal if the kids could stay inside did happen any changes. Also during rainy weather teachers have umbrellas and the children run around in T-shorts, because nobody cares also when it is freezing cold in autumn. In Europe nobody goes outside the school, they go there to study, not freeze to death. My son got 6x a year ear infection, now thanks to this has 40% hearing lost. He was born healthy and was healthy until he started to attend Canadian schools. Now his sister goes the same path.
    You can not believe how much I hate the way it works here and how much I feel sorry for my children when they have to walk on frozen concrete, because all the play structures are slippery and closed, be hungry, because they did not eat lunch in those 10 min, having nothing warm to drink or eat.
    All the people saying how is socialismus bad and kapitalismus great for the people, can go to the hell. I am fourty and live in Canada for 10 years. Unfortunately I have to say, I used to live in paradise and those days are over. The schools I used to attend were public, paid from peoples taxes. I do not remember permanently to be asked for donations like here. I can not wait when my husband get in early pension and we can finally leave. I just hope the globalization do not completely ruins my country that it will become the same great proud country as Canada.
    I apologize to all proud Canadians, but this is just a true fact.


  7. Thank God someone else is taking issue with the length of lunch breaks!

    My son is 6 years old and attends school in Alberta, Canada. I have only just discovered to my horror that he gets approximately 15 minutes to eat lunch… a revelation that arose after weeks of him returning home with none of his lunch touched… not even his juice box! It is still contuning.

    Kids here have a school agenda which is essentially used as a way for teachers to ‘communicate’ with parents. You sign each day off as having read it. So I used it “Please ensure my son eats at least 50% of his lunch at school. He has not eaten anything, not even drinks in two weeks!”

    The response in ‘the agenda’ was: “Please discuss this with him at home”

    I asked one of his day care assistants how long they get for lunch and she said “15 minutes… but he keeps talking to his friend!” I responded with “No you know in your heart that is absolutely wrong right?” She said: well they need to burn off the energy for the rest of the lunch break!”

    I have read the comments above and at last feel that I am not alone in my concern… you guys have provided not just reassurances but an unambiguous voice in concerns over childhood diet and nutrition. It is indeed 2012 on the calendar… tell me please that it’s not the 1800s and I’m of sound mind ;o)


  8. In our school here in PA their lunches are seperated in 3 sessions with a time of 30 minutes total to get to cafeteria, get in line, get meal and eat. So besides the fact last session has the least of availabilty to eat most dont have time to eat properly without hurrying, little socialization encouraged if you want to eat.


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  10. For most of my school years, we had 2 hours break for lunch, since there is always the option to go back home to eat.
    That’s what I did for elementary school. I had a nanny who lived 10′ walk away, so all ‘her’ kids would walk back, eat, play and walk back to school. Middle school still gave 2 hours. You either went at noon or at 1, according to your grade, and we had about 30-40′ to eat. The time left was for us to ‘play’ but really we were not allowed to go ‘inside’ which was only a teacher privilege, not allowed in the corridor, very limited time in the bathroom (yes, I hated middle school, it was like a jail, actually the entrance door really looked like a jail entrance!!), so I remember it as a real pain during the winter: staying outside for over 1 hour, my fingers were frozen by the time we had our 2 o’clock class and I couldn’t even write!
    In high school, I had 1 or 2 hours, according to my schedule. It was impossible to go home in 1 hour, so on those days, I would eat at school in about 30-40′ at the ‘cantine’, where we were served a one choice ‘menu’. Not much time left after that, which was hard I remember, I felt like rushing thru 🙂
    Funny that all those years, and still now, it never came up to our mind (myself or my parents) to bring lunch at school! Cold food, picnic kind of meal are NOT an possibly an everyday thing, and the schools didn’t provide any space for this kind of option anyway.


  11. Our high school has about a 30-40 min lunch break, but everyone doesn’t eat at once. We have three different “periods” for lunch, which cuts down on the amount of students in the cafeteria. Even the people who go through the lunch line normally have time to eat all there food and chat.


  12. In our county in Kentucky the children get 20-25 minutes to get their food and eat. Many do not get to each much, and if they do they have belly aches from eating too fast.


  13. We get 30 minutes exactly. By the time you walk to the cafeteria and get through the line you have roughly ten minutes to eat. I honestly don’t even bother to go in the cafeteria and eat anymore. Waste of money if you can only eat one bite and they don’t let you take food out of the cafeteria. I just get a little snack from the vending machine. 😦 This is a Highschool in the U.S.


  14. In most middle schools in the U.S. Kids only get a 30 to 40 min break per day (ages 6th grade threw 8th). And that’s only for eating. They don’t even get a recess! Once a week, kids have the privilege to go out into the court yard, so most kids rush threw their lunches to finally let their energy out. They eat lunch for five min. and then rush out side. They are so excited to finally get out and play, they rush through their (un-healthy) lunch. Kids need longer breaks! And they don’t only need a longer break for lunches; they need it for a break during a very stressful day. Like a free period or recess.


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  16. Thanks! I’d love to hear how much time they actually get. The National Ministry of Education regulations specify 30 minutes, but I know that in crowded schools they have multiple rotations at lunch, in order for everyone to get a spot sitting down. Let me know!


  17. Hi from a mom in France. Yes, my girls get about a two hour lunch break in their French middle school. But that’s not how long they actually spend “à table”. There are a lot of kids to get through the lunch room in those two hours and “who goes first” is on a rotation basis. The grades not eating are outside playing, waiting to be called in for their turn to eat. On one of the days when the 6th grade went last through the lunch line, my daughter told me that classes had almost started and they had to hurry to eat, but were allowed to stay past the bell in order to finish. This could just be a one time event. I’ll ask her if on the other days, she gets more time to eat. The middle schoolers don’t spend the whole 2 hours in the lunchroom, though I’m pretty sure they spend more than 10 minutes eating. I’ll ask my daughters to estimate the time they think they spend actually eating their school lunch.


  18. In elementary and middle school, my kid got 38 min – about 20 for recess and 18 for lunch. They used to eat first and then play, but kids would cut their lunch short to go out to play so they reversed the order. Not enough time at all in my opinion. My kid brought lunch from home, but most kids had to stand in line and get their food from the cafeteria (don’t even want to start discussing that food), so they had less than 10 min to actually eat….


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