Major League Baseball, apple pie, and having recess after lunch…three undisputable staples of American society. But have you ever had cherry pie? Man, it is so good! And so is change.

Sometimes “re-inventing the wheel” can seem like an insurmountable task, but implementing a system in which students eat lunch after recess might be easier than you thought. With proper planning, cost-benefit analysis and flexibility, the future of health standards can reside right in your very school district.

If you’re interested in increasing participation in your school nutrition program, decreasing the disciplinary action required for your student body, and maintaining a higher level of health and safety standards – you have come to the right place. Presenting a reasonable argument for modifying a deep-rooted tradition will be challenging, but using the following tips and illustrating the value of this change will make the transition to lunch after recess a seamless conversion. So, let’s dive right in and eat some cherry pie.

Why change?

Undoubtedly the first question one might ask in this situation would be why? Why change? Traditions are typically deeply-rooted for a reason, but sometimes from the outside looking in, your perspective can be different. Luckily, you don’t just have to take my word for it. The proof is in the precedent. Many school districts across the nation have already began scheduling lunch after recess, and it has been a huge success.  There are endless accounts of the benefits that have been seen with this re-structuring, but let’s begin with the most important ones: the kids.

According to a study by Preventive Medicine “…waiting until after recess to feed kids increases per-child fruit and veggie consumption by 54% and prompts 45% more students to eat any fruits or vegetables at all.”

What happens when you combine a Snickers bar, a bag of Doritos and then 95 degree heat, in that order? Stomachaches, headaches, drowsiness – simply put…nothing good. School nurses in districts who observe recess before lunch report that they are significantly less busy, and that is exactly how they like it. So, what makes the difference? When kids are active for an extended period of time and eat post-recess, they will naturally want to consume more wholesome meals leading to a better diet and less food-related illnesses. Additionally, when students eat more, there is going to be less food waste. This means not only are they getting closer to reaching the nutritional standards we long for them to attain, but also your hard work and preparation isn’t being tossed in the garbage can.

Another contributing factor to less waste is students will no longer be itching to get outside and play with their peers while they are eating. Having recess before lunch prevents angst that can come from wanting to rush out of the cafeteria doors and instead encourages them to consume more food. This will also decrease lethargic tendencies later in the day as they will avoid nutritional deficiency that can come with not eating a proper meal.

Many districts have also reported a drastic decline in the amount of disciplinary action that is required during lunch, and after lunch. When you allow kids to extinguish their fiery energy out in the playground, it prevents discord and misbehavior in controlled settings like the cafeteria or the classroom. One Montana school district that observes recess before lunch claims that their need for discipline has “decreased by 60 percent over a three-year period.”

We love our kids, but what about us?

As school nutrition professionals, the one thing you care about most is the kids you show up to provide nourishing meals for each day. As we all know, however, there are many contributing factors that come into play when implementing change. Your faculty, parents and superiors all want to know what this is going to mean for them.

For your staff, they can expect one of the most important things to increase in the classroom with this change: attention. When students come straight to class after recess, they are wired – and not exactly ready to learn why the alphabet can be used in math. But having lunch after recess creates a buffer between the time of increased heart rates and the time needed for a rested, focused mind.

Some school districts say they have gained up to an additional 10 minutes of academic time because the students are simply calmer .

One of the biggest resistors to a kid’s lifestyle changing can be their parents. Inherently, people don’t like change, especially parents when it comes to changes that affect their children. If you choose to implement recess before lunch, it will be important to manage parent concerns respectfully and confidently. For example: you might expect a backlash with regards to kids being active on an empty stomach. This can allow you an opportunity to promote participation in your breakfast program and offer additional incentives to the change, like mid-day snacks.  Other tips that could ease the minds of parents and superiors would be suggesting a one-year pilot program to test out the idea, just to see how it performs. If the value is realized, then denying the implementation seems less likely.

Finally, the challenge of proving that value to your superiors isn’t as hard as you might think. The cost-benefit analysis of this strategy clearly depicts a low cost, high benefit model. The only expense you might inherit is the price required to produce more food. But, as you know, the reason behind that cost is the benefit of increased student participation in your school nutrition program, and increased revenue is something almost any board member can support.

If that is the question, then what is the answer?

The answer to the question posed in the title of this blog might seem a bit clearer now, but before that answer is conclusive, understanding the finer details is important. As previously mentioned, changing a tradition is difficult and requires value proposition. But to plan for success, one also needs to plan for failure. Having a plan of action to account for as many shortcomings and issues that can come with this change is necessary.

Some districts have come across a few scenarios like dealing with handling homemade lunches, dirty hands and food, debit cards getting left in the cafeteria, etc. Schools have combatted these issues with strategies such as having a ‘lunch basket’ that contains all the homemade lunches for each classroom ready for the students to receive after recess. Additional adjustments included installing hand-sanitizing stations in and around the cafeteria, which can also help reduce the spread of bacteria amongst the student body.

To wrap up, challenges always present themselves with change. They go hand-in-hand, kind of like the traditional concept of recess after lunch. But some of the most successful ventures can flourish by breaking the mold and accepting a new way of thinking. Contrary to popular belief, it is okay to watch basketball, eat a cherry pie, and even have recess before lunch.