FOX19 Investigates: School kids hungry at school - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

FOX19 Investigates: School kids hungry at school

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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

School children across the Tri-State are eating lunch for breakfast, FOX19 Investigates team has uncovered. One school district serves students lunch at 9:41 a.m.

At Union Elementary School in West Chester, 2nd through 6th graders lined up for the Thursday lunch entree: meatball sub served with cooked carrot coins, green grapes, and fat-free or 1 percent milk.

"It's all a big jigsaw puzzle," said Chris Burkhardt, nutrition and wellness director for Lakota Local Schools.

Like many Tri-State schools, Union Elementary administrators juggle dividing hundreds of kids into a handful of staggered lunch periods in one space.

"We try to look at the school schedule and put lunch in the middle of the day," Burkhardt said. "Now obviously, when you try to schedule, it's tough to have all of the kids in the middle of the day, so by default, some are going to be earlier, some are going to be later."

Several local schools face the same dilemma, which means many children are being served their mid-day meal in the morning.

Of the nearly 200 local public schools surveyed, while lunch times varied widely, about half begin serving lunch before 11 a.m.

The earliest lunch period listed was 9:41 am. The latest began at 1:35 p.m.

Click here to see if your child's school is on the list

Dr. Dale Block with Premier Family Care of Mason said eating too early could lead to inattention later in the school day.

"When your stomach is growling and you're hungry, it's pretty hard to focus in the classroom. For optimum nutrition, you should be eating something about every three hours. Whether you had a healthy breakfast, a healthy lunch, you should have a snack in between," Block said. "The hard part is the timing of when kids are eating at school and making sure they're eating healthy."

At Sands Montessori School, a Cincinnati public school in Mount Washington, whole-grain breaded chicken nuggets are on the menu, right next to kiwi, plums and a salad bar.

"CPS (Cincinnati Public Schools) gives principals the autonomy to decide their lunch periods based on their master schedules because they know their students and their students' needs best," said Jessica Shelly, the food services director for Cincinnati's 53 schools. "USDA federal guidelines say all school lunches have to be between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Exceptions are allowed with a waiver."

To combat those mid-afternoon hunger pangs, some schools have built-in snacks outside of the normal lunch period.

"About 70 percent of our elementary schools have received a federal grant that allows us to provide an additional fresh fruit or vegetable snack throughout the day," Shelly said. "So at our earlier lunch times, they are able to have an afternoon fresh fruit or vegetable snack. Later lunch times at schools have an early fresh fruit or vegetable snack."

"My daughter doesn't get home until 3:45 p.m.," said Schevon Butts, who has a 13-year-old daughter. "So by the time she gets home, she's starving."

Parents are concerned not only with early lunch times but also how much time children are given to eat.

"(My concern is) that she doesn't have enough time to eat," said Missy Rains, mom of a 6-year-old girl. "Sometimes she doesn't have time to eat breakfast and I think she'd be hungry."

Of the nearly 200 schools surveyed, the average lunch period was 20 to 30 minutes. But there were exceptions.

One school's lunch period is as short as 18 minutes, while another allots 47 minutes to eat.

"Twenty-five minutes is our sweet spot for elementary kids, 30 minutes for junior and high school kids," said Burkhardt. "We find that 25 minutes is about the right time for them to get through the line, get to the table, eat their lunch and socialize."

In recent years there's also been a national push to make school lunch more healthy. To receive federal reimbursement for lunches, schools must serve more fruits and vegetables in addition to protein and whole grains. And local food services directors said healthy food is not always fast food.

"It takes longer to eat a fresh garden salad than mashed potatoes," said Shelly. "It takes longer to eat an apple than applesauce."

"We're finding a lot of these students are not eating these healthy lunches," Burkhardt added.

That's in part because school officials said some students aren't used to eating these foods at home. Doctors said that's where the parents come into the equation, encouraging children to make healthy choices not just at school.

"We're really changing the scope of what our children are eating at school," said Block.

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