A growing number of Canadian schools are improving children’s nutrition and behaviour with a simple shift in their schedule. It’s called the reverse lunch.
Following morning classes, students go outside to play for recess and then eat their lunches. Administrators at École Frère Antoine Catholic Elementary School in Edmonton are seeing big benefits.
“In the past I would have had a couple calls a month about, ‘My child has not finished their lunch. Can you help them do that?’ says acting principal Nicole Beaudoin.
She hasn’t had those types of calls for two years.
“They’re ready to sit and eat and they take the time to eat,” Beaudoin says.
The manager of programs and projects for the district says students’ behaviour has improved too.
“That problem on the playground kind of dissipates because they are hungry and they come back in,” Cheryle Shinkaruk says. “Whereas when our students go out and play after, then that problem sometimes comes back into the classroom and the teacher has to deal with that issue when classes start back so the transition isn’t as smooth.”
Research backs up their experiences. B.C researcher Peggy Antifaeff studied the impact of the reverse lunch schedule in two K-7 schools in the Langley School District in 2006. She found that parents, students and teachers all noticed by playing and then eating, students had more energy and were more alert in the afternoon.
“Part of the challenge around nutrition with the short times that we have in school is that the kids either overeat or under-eat…because they run out of time and want to go play,” Antifaeff says.
“This eliminated those problems because the kids would go play. They would come in and be calm and get to eat.”
A 2011 U.S study found that students who followed the reverse lunch ate 54 per cent more fruits and vegetables.
It’s unclear how many Canadian schools have implemented the schedule because it isn’t tracked by school boards.
About one quarter of elementary schools in the Edmonton Catholic School District follow the ritual and Shinkaruk expects more will follow.
“Definitely. Schools see the benefits of this and as a result when we see benefits to student learning, I think more schools will come on board to it.”