Bill would require Maine schools to allow students 30 minutes to eat lunch

By Joe Lawlor, Portland Press Herald
March 22, 2023

Advocates urged lawmakers Wednesday to pass a bill mandating 30-minute lunch periods for Maine’s K-12 students, saying schools that provide 20 minutes or less are not giving students enough time to eat and are contributing to food waste.

And, they said, downing a nutritious meal in 20 minutes has gotten even more challenging now that school lunches are free in Maine and more students are lining up for cafeteria meals.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Janice Dodge, D-Belfast, has raised logistical concerns among some school administrators but has an opt-out clause for districts that can show that switching to a longer lunch period would be difficult.

Anna Korsen, advocacy and implementation director for Full Plates Full Potential, a nonprofit that advocates for ending childhood hunger, said that making school lunch free for everyone benefits students, but the state’s move has unintended consequences. About 16% more students are eating the school lunch this school year, according to the Maine Department of Education.

“Maine’s historic law to feed every child at school at no cost has helped to reduce the stigma around school meals, resulting in more students eating,” Korsen testified before the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs on Wednesday. “This also means longer lunch lines. Now that meals are free for all students, we must work to make sure they have enough time to actually eat them.”

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