Foodie sound off: Here’s your lunch — now shut up!

I got this email from a reader:

[We recently moved and my] kids are told there is no talking for the first 15 minutes of lunch. Some people tell me this is “normal” [for the area].  It might be normal but it is not healthy or natural.  It there any scientific evidence that would prove to my administrators that talking in moderation aids the digestive process, helps with social skills and teaches natural consequences (if you spend all your time talking and not eating you will be hungry)?

To answer the question, I think that this parent is in a great spot to talk about this issue with the classroom teacher and the principal. Because she is new, she can almost “play dumb” and ask lots of questions about why the school does this, as if it’s a completely foreign concept.

Here are my ideas:

1) Talk to the classroom teacher. Ask about lunch. Find out about the number of opportunities to socialize.

2) Stop by the principal’s office. Introduce yourself, tell the principal what you love about the school, then mention the fact that your child is unhappy that he/she can’t talk with friends at lunch. Mention how vital it is for new kids to get a chance to talk and make friendships. How can a new kid find friends if they can’t talk at lunch? Can the kids talk in their classroom? Or is that silent too?

3) Join or start the PTA and/or the Wellness Committee. Meet other parents and neighbors who help make decisions about the school. Make them aware of this. Honestly, many parents, and even some teachers, may not know about it.

I think about school lunch as an opportunity for enrichment. A chance to eat new foods and meet new friends. I mean, isn’t education is about opening new doors? It shouldn’t stop over the lunch hour.

As far as research, this is all I could find with a simple google search:
Socialization myths: Silent lunch at public schools
Behavior and Learning in School/Silent lunch

What do you think about silent lunch? Can you help me find some research that the reader can present in favor of a change?

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29 thoughts on “Foodie sound off: Here’s your lunch — now shut up!

  1. I will be thinking about this. When I have lunch with my son at his school, they turn the lights off in the cafeteria when it gets too loud (or confusing for the adults I guess) but it's kind of ridiculous to automatically censor them, in essence, from the get-go. I could cite a few things about the importance of sharing a meal with friends over conversation, but nothing relevant to kids comes to mind other than – you know – we're trying to turn them into adults who aren't social misfits…again, will sleep on this 🙂

  2. It sounds horrible – but perhaps it's the school's feeble attempt at coping with an already too short eating time. Maybe they think the kids will eat more if they have nothing else to do. So much for the idea of socializing and building community over a meal…sigh.

  3. In elementary school we weren't allowed to talk for the first 15 minutes, either. And if people talked anyway we had silence for the entire lunch. I do remember that when we were finally allowed to talk there wasn't much eating going on, but I'm sure that if we had been able to talk the whole time it wouldn't have been such a big deal.

  4. I'm a teacher and at our school many kids will talk more than eat. Then we'd have complaints about hungry kids. It's always easy to criticize first than to just ask why the policy is in place. In our school they have equal time to talk and lunch is followed by recess. School is filled with time to be social, however we're on a schedule and don't have the leisure to sit there all day.

  5. As a teacher, I can see that the reason is so that more eating is done than talking. I have to constantly remind my 1st graders to EAT when we're at lunch. I can tell when they didn't eat their food in the afternoon, and it's usually because they talked for too long. I do give some time to socialize in the morning. While I understand, that seems a little off, still.

  6. There are several reasons for having 15 minutes of silent lunch.

    It may be to help reduce the number of hungry kids in the afternoon. There are many kids who socialize so much during lunch that they only eat a couple of bites, then complain they didn't have enough time to eat. I've seen this often in the schools that I work in.

    Another reason could be discipline issues. Having the quiet time can help kids calm down from the excitement of being with friends, complaining about the food that they have or that someone else is eating, food fights, food sharing, etc.

    Reducing noise levels in the cafeteria. It can be deafening to be in a cafeteria where everyone is talking loudly. Some schools may ask for 15 minutes of quiet time and then allow kids to talk quietly for the end of the meal. This helps protect their exposure to high decibel noise.

    Just some thoughts on why it may be in place. It's good to find out the basis for the rule rather than just jump to negative conclusions.

  7. When we moved from OR to NV, I was in 5th grade so I was only at the new elementary school for that one year. We were not allowed to talk during lunch, if people did start talking they would turn off the lights in an attempt to quiet everybody. The food was crap and to be honest when my mom gave me my lunch money I would stash it in my pocket because I refused to eat frozen food that had not made it to the warmer or was not in there long enough to "cook".

  8. As an observer of life and people in general, I've found that most rules for children are put into place, not so much for their sake but for the comfort level of the adults around them. Now, having said that, the best way to handle children who talk more than eat is to remind ALL children before lunch that the first reason for lunch is to refuel their bodies. With younger children, up to 10 years old, the constant reminder is needed because of attention spans. If a child is one who just can't stop, then put them at a special table for a few days. But see, these suggestions are common sense and that is something that is lacking in most administrators today.

  9. I never had to be quiet during lunch in elementary school, but then again I went to an extremely small school. So the lunchroom monitors could easily keep an eye on all of us.

    Still, I think I would've hated lunch if we had to be quiet. Had to be quiet in class, so lunch was the best time of day.

  10. I've worked in schools for 18 years, supervised during lunch, and I've never heard of this. Also, the kids have about 50 min total for lunch, (eating and play time), and I never heard of kids not having enough time to eat or socializing too much. Kids learn that if they don't eat, they will be hungry.

    We got calls home when Kevin didn't eat his whole lunch at school. My response was that I was teaching him to listen to his body, and if he wasn't hungry, then he shouldn't be made to eat it.

    I can't imagine silent lunch. The kids are silent all day in class, lunch should be a little more relaxed and enjoyable.

  11. I am a teacher too and have asked for our school to do this. Most of my kids don't eat because they talk the entire time (and this is after they are given time to socialize in gym, specials, and recess). Also, since the 15 min would end at different times for different classes- the cafeteria will not be as loud. 200-300 kids eating at the same time is SUPER loud.

  12. the last school I worked at the grade school teachers 1-4 had this implemented. It was so the kids would eat. They were allowed the last 5 minutes or so to talk. They had to raise their hands if they wanted to ask the teachers something. Compared to the 5=8th grades it was a lot more pleasant to eat in the cafeteria with the little ones.

  13. Perhaps its about getting the children to actually eat what is in front of them instead of using it as a time to chatter box? 15 minutes of silence doesn't seem like such a horrible notion to me. After all how many parents can be heard at breakfast or dinner "Be quiet and eat?" Yet when the school institutes a finite demand there is outrage. Get over it, be quiet, eat your lunch and move on.

  14. Wow… when I was a kid, we were allowed to talk and eat at the same time. We did just that. Talked and ate at the same time. I don't remember ever going hungry, because I realized that if I didn't eat, I wouldn't be full.

    Seriously, are kids today THAT dumb? :\

    This is one of those "sheltering kids to death" situations, as far as I'm concerned. Sorry. I know it makes teacher's lives hell because then they've got hungry whiny kids to deal with, but these kids have to learn lessons for themselves or they'll never be able to connect the dots for other lessons as adults.

  15. It seems to me that this is a symptom of too many kids with too few teachers. Kids don't learn anything from this kind of rule –except perhaps that adults impose rules to make their own lives easier, and don't really care about the kids.

    I'm glad my child is in a small school, with a much smaller student to teacher ratio. This blog, and others, have discussed how kids don't stop learning at lunch. Learning to enjoy socializing and eating at the same time is an important, and enjoyable, lesson. Imposed silence will not teach them self-control.

  16. I'm not grasping the concern for unfinished lunches. Clearly the children are not going to starve until their next meal, and if they don't eat and get hungry enough, through consequential learning they will feed their bellies next time around. It sounds to me that the adults are either catering to their own comfort and control issues or that teaching logical conquences have been overlooked. I do however believe that noise levels do need to be maintained during lunch time, but turning out the lights never worked when I was a kid and I can't imagine that it's a very effective method in gaining results so many years later either. I would definitely bring up suggestions and help out in the lunch room to gain better understnading of the reasoning behind it all if I were the concerned parent involved.

  17. We don't have that rule here, probably because we don't have a cafeteria. Each student gets their lunch in the kitchen line then they eat in their classroom. They get a half hour to eat and chat, plus a half hour of recess. We've only made them eat silently a handful of times when they couldn't control their volume. There's only one student that regularly doesn't have time to finish her lunch, and that's just because she's a slow eater, she's not usually chatting. I like how the students are able socialize in a non-chaotic environment, plus they learn the responsibility of caring for their classroom by cleaning up their tables after they eat.

  18. I think that if there is a rule for silent lunch, the number of students eating must be very large and hard to control.

  19. I agree. and even more so . the minute they will notice more parents are actually looking and what the kids eats and what happends in the schools. things will improve

  20. My fourth grader is not allowed to talk in the lunchroom. I was told it was to cut help with choking, I guess the teacher is more likely to notice distress if everyone is eating quietly.

  21. I switched two a new elementary school in 3rd grade (this was in Bakersfield, CA) where I attended until 5th grade. They had silent lunch. I hated it! And my very first day as a new student I didn't know this rule, and tried talking to the kid next to me. The lunch lady swooped in, and I was punished with having to stand at a pole at recess instead of getting to play. I tried to say that I was new and didn't know about the no talking, but she didn't care. I'm clearly still a bit traumatized by this 22 years later!

    IIRC, all the no talking thing did was cause kids to scraf down their lunch as fast as possible, so they could excused to go play and socialize. Which isn't the healthiest habit to get into.

  22. When I was a child in the deep south (early 90's) this was the norm. I HATED it. I was always a quiet child. I had to stay inside at recess and visit the library because of health conditions so I didn't get to see my friends at that time. Lunch was the only time I could socialize during school. I remember once a friend asked me to hand her a napkin that she dropped. When I said "sure, let me get it" I was publically "called out" by the "lunchroom monitor" (a member of school staff) and had to then stand up against the wall for the rest of the lunch period. I did not get to eat my lunch. I didn't do anything wrong. My parents threw a fit and they were told I shouldn't have broken the rules by talking.

    We live in a society where eating and socializing go hand in hand. I think it is important that children learn these skills too. If there are students that are being unruly or loud perhaps making them stay quiet for lunch isn't unwarrented but this blanket punishment is wrong in my opinion. Even now, close to 20 years after that incident I remember crying against that wall in front of all my classmates and going hungry for the rest of the day, all because I had interacted in a completely normal way and acknowledged my fellow human being who needed a little help reaching her napkin.

  23. @SL and @Georgia_Peachy Wow. Your stories have touched me. Why do we do this to kids?

  24. I went to school in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas for 3rd & 4th grade during the late 1980s. Prior to that, I was in school outside of San Francisco. There, we were allowed to talk and sit with whoever we wanted. In Texas, I got such a shock on my first day of school. I noticed the kids were sitting boy-girl-boy-girl. Being the new kid and trying to sound cool, I said "Oh, so you guys use the B-G System, eh?" B(oy)-G(irl) System? That doesn't sound cool in any universe. Anyway, another kid shushed me right away and said we had to be quiet.

    That was so weird. Sitting boy-girl kind of made sense, as a way to possibly force the boys to socialize with the girls. But if we couldn't talk/socialize, what was the point? I don't remember this boy-girl seating and silence lasting all two years I was at that school, but it lasted long enough for me to still remember it 20 years later. I wonder if it was a regional thing or a cultural thing. That part of Texas is 90-95% Hispanic.

  25. In our NYC public school, our daughter has ten minutes of silent eating in her pre-k. (She is four) When I first heard about it, I thought it was exactly the opposite of what a meal should be, a multi-layered, social, enjoyable experience. It seemed harsh.

    After seeing both my girls have their ten minutes of silent eating, two years in a row, I've since changed my mind. (My oldest is in K and they do not have silent eating) The pre-k kids really focus on eating when all they're allowed to do is eat. When they finish the last ten minutes of their lunch, they are chatting, being silly and the food is all but forgotten. Most of their nutritional intake happens in that first ten. The social stuff happens in the last ten.

    And the truth is, some fun stuff happens during that silent ten minutes. My daughter and her best friend next to her have a whole game they play where they share fruit under the table when the teachers aren't looking. That game has forged their friendship. My daughter thinks this little rebellious act is hilarious. She has a new story about it every week or so.

    I get why the idea of this is off-putting. For people who love and enjoy food, it seems antithetical to everything we believe, but at least for the little kids, I think it may have it's benefits. And the truth is, at least at our school, it's not meant to be a punishment or some sort of harsh edict. It's a parameter, a boundary, one of many throughout the day, that allows kids to do an activity without distraction.

    I think it's important to talk about this but it's also important not to project onto it extra meaning from our unhappy childhood school lunch experiences. Kids know when they are being supported and loved and respected and they know when a rule is there to silence them. They feel it. In the case of silent eating, intention is everything.


  26. I am a teacher and some days we do have a silent lunch, and some days we start out with five minutes of silence. A lot of comments have been directed at the fact that this is a punishment towards the students and a comfort for the teachers. Uh, duh! I think most kids are capable of talking and feeding themselves (at least for my fifth graders it is). But when a gym-ateria full of 100+ fifth graders is monitored by only two adults, it is not always a fun, pleasant twenty minutes. Starting the lunch with silence sets the tone for the kids to calm down, get started and then begin chatting.

    Yes, realistically, sitting and socializing at lunch would be a wonderful concept; but any teacher who has fifteen minutes to shove food down her throat knows that socialization doesn't always happen-even in the teacher's lounge.

    Rather than complaining, parents could be part of the solution. Offer to volunteer as a lunchroom monitor. Help the kids get through the line quickly and clean up after themselves so that they have more time to eat and more time to talk. Also, take a minute to be in the lunchroom monitor's shoes and see how delightful a couple minutes of silence can be.

  27. I attended elementary school in Southern California and ate lunch outdoors. We only ate inside when it rained in a crowded multi-purpose room. I never found it distracting to talk and eat most of the time i refused to eat because the food was so gross.

  28. In theiry, kids will learn that they should talk AND eat. In theory, socialization at meals is part of the learning of the day. In theory, the children who don't eat will learn their lesson because they are hungry later. In practice, lunch is only twenty minutes. Some kids are spedning part of that 20 mnutes standing in line, or sometimes they are late getting to lunch. In practice, kids that don't eat will either have difficulty concentrating or will have behavior problems in the afternoon. They will not connect those consequences to thier lack of sufficient nutients and calories. In practice, not all kids have a lunch period that coincides with when they are hungry. In practice, not all kids had a good breakfast, and some of the ones who did had to eat it very early. In practice, not all american kids are fat. Some really need the calories at lunch. I have one who is 8. He has several issues with lunch. 1) He is a slow eater. 2) He is very social. 3) He has ADD and is on medication that supresses his appetite, and without the meds he doesn't notice that he is hungry. 4) He is obnoxious when he has not eaten. He does not understand the cause and effect. Every day is a battle to see how much I can get into him. Every day is a struggle. I would love for his school to have part of their lunch period silent.

  29. I am an aide. I have lunch duty. At lunch the kids spend all their time talking and leave most of their lunch uneaten. Then the parents complain that their children "don't have enough time to eat." They would, if they would stop talking for a few minutes. I would LOVE to have a few parents volunteer in the lunchroom. No parent has spent any time in there this year.

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