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The lunchroom problem

March 03, 2006

Did your mom ever tell you not to gulp down your food? It's good advice, but according to Del. Robert McKee, R-Washington, some local students must do just that, if they want to have any lunch at all.

McKee told the Maryland General Assembly's House Ways and Means Committee this week that some students spend 25 minutes of their half-hour lunch period just standing in line.

"Basically, they have five minutes to swallow whole the lunch that they bought," McKee said.

McKee's proposed remedy is to extend the lunch period to an hour. The school system opposes that, saying that would cost millions to add time to the school day for that purpose.

We doubt if McKee favors a solution that's so expensive. But there has to be a way to speed up the lunch line, for several reasons. The first is that, just as your mother told you, gulping your food is unhealthy. Those who gulp their food not only swallow a great deal of air and wreak havoc on their digestive systems, but they also risk choking on large pieces of food.

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And those who have a limited amount of time are also less likely to make healthy choices. Is it easier and quicker to eat a hot dog than a plate of raw vegetables? Of course, but it's not what the schools should be encouraging.

Schools are already using a debit card system to speed up lines, but if it takes 25 minutes to get to the cashier, there is still something wrong.

Perhaps the answer is to do as supermarkets do and have an express lane. Students in the line could get one basic meal, with no substitutions allowed.

The tradeoff for the lack of choices would be more time to spend eating and talking with friends. We're not certain this is the answer, but if another system somewhere in the U.S. hasn't tackle this problem and solved it, we'd be surprised. A little brainstorming and borrowing ideas make more sense than spending millions to extend the school day.

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