Students benefit from longer lunches, but can districts afford it?

A new kind of Minnesota mandatory minimum aims to keep kids well-fed without rushing through the school cafeteria.

There’s a bill under consideration that would require schools to give students at least 15 minutes of seated lunchtime because there are benefits of a longer lunch, but a bill passed last year would make it a bit harder.

Classrooms aren’t the only place a principal needs to run smoothly.

The cafeteria is also high on the list and food is a critical ingredient in the recipe for education.

"We see a really big connection with students feeling full and not focusing on hunger to be able to focus on their academics," Becky Sutten, principal at Central Park Elementary School in Roseville told FOX 9.

Research shows students get better grades and have fewer behavioral issues when they’re not hungry. But at a lot of schools, especially bigger ones, kids complain about the rush of a lunch break.

The CDC recommends students have at least 20 minutes of time to sit and eat, but an EdWeek survey found as many as 21% of schools don't give them that long.

Nutritionists point to the kids’ habits as the biggest reason not to hurry them.

"They'll eat more fruits, and they'll eat more vegetables," Michele Hawkinson, president of the Minnesota School Nutrition Association and nutrition director for Tracy Area Schools in Lyon County, told FOX 9. "They finish their whole meal instead of only picking what they like best to eat."

At Central Park Elementary, kids usually have 20 minutes or more to eat.

"It gives kids some more time to be thoughtful about what their body is asking for and if they want more," said Sutten.

They can always get seconds on fruits and vegetables, which sometimes has an added benefit - a nutritious type of peer pressure.

"So one student goes and gets another cup of blueberries [then] all of a sudden three other students want more blueberries," Sutten said.

H.F. 3556 being discussed in the Minnesota Legislature would set a 15-minute minimum for seated lunchtime.

But a bill passed last year might make it harder to implement.

Schools are serving 14% more lunches since universal free school lunches took effect last fall.

"We're feeding way more students now," said Hawkinson. "And so the time of the kids going through the lunch line and sitting down to eating did not get adjusted because nobody really knew how many students would be eating."

The bill’s supporters are studying ways to guarantee at least 15 minutes without extending the school day or taking away from time in the classroom.

"I'm looking more at what other states are doing around implementation," said Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Minneapolis), who authored the House bill. "Because I think we know that other states are able to do it, but I know that districts are looking for more support."

Some options include adding a grab and go line, designing more efficient cafeteria or kitchens, or hiring more staff to get the kids sitting and eating faster.