Lunch in Classrooms is Adding More Stress for Teachers – 10 Tips to Make It Easier


Lunch in Classrooms Doesn't Have to Be Stressful - 10 Tips to Make It Easier

Many schools are not using cafeterias this year as there is no way to maintain social distancing with large groups. Students are eating lunch in classrooms instead. This provides new challenges for teachers, but also some great opportunities. Here are 10 tips to help this new procedure go smoother.

1. Make a poster of the process of eating lunch in classrooms.

When kids are hungry, they tend to before focused on getting to their food and might need reminders of the steps they need to take first. Reminding classmates of the procedure could be a classroom job, at least until everyone gets the hang of it. 

2. Put students in charge of cleaning.

Students will need to wipe their desks before eating. After lunch, they’ll need to clean up their food and wipe their areas again. Putting them in charge of the process (with teachers monitoring) gives them ownership and will hopefully lessen the mess since they know they’ll be the one cleaning it. 

3. Pay extra attention to food allergies.

There’s another reason to up the handwashing and cleaning procedures – food allergies. Food and leftover food residue being consumed in the classroom means a great risk of food allergy reactions. FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) identified the three areas parents of children with food allergies are most concerned with: handwashing, cleaning, and anaphylaxis recognition. They have free resources to help keep everyone safe from food allergies while eating in the classroom, including handwashing posters in English and Spanish, cleaning information, and 10-minute anaphylaxis training. Get them HERE.  

4. Stagger the process.

Everyone needs to clean their desk, wash their hands, and get their lunch before eating. This is a lot of kids moving around the classroom at once and probably doesn’t allow for social distancing. Give students an activity to work on independently at their desks, such as journaling, math practice, vocabulary word search, or an early start on homework. Send five students at a time to get started on prepping. Students should start eating as soon as they get their food to their desks. Some of us eat more slowly than others, so as you identify those students send them in the first group to prepare for lunch. There’s going to be a learning curve to mastering lunch in classrooms and teachers will probably need to adjust the procedure several times.

5. Ask families who send their children to school with lunch to pack easy-to-open items.

To be efficient with time and limit your contact with children’s food items, it’s important they handle as much of the process as possible themselves. Send a letter home advising parents to pack items children can easily open themselves. Give parents feedback as necessary. 

6. Set the mood.

Dim the lights. Play some relaxing music. Maybe take a few minutes to practice mindfulness or try some brain breaks before starting the lunch process. Lunch used to be a break from the classroom for students, so do something to help them get a breather. 

7. Extend lunchtime.

Research shows the standard 20-minute school lunch period just isn’t enough. Though eating lunch in classrooms means time won’t be spent walking to the cafeteria and waiting in a lunch line, cleaning and handwashing are time-consuming. If possible, add a few minutes to mealtime.

8. Practice table manners.

Lunch in classrooms gives teachers an opportunity to observe table manners. Make a lesson plan around table manners. What are they? What’s the history? Why are they important? How do they differ around the world? 

9. Eat your lunch, too.

Teachers eating lunch with students is shown to build relationships and connections. And since you no longer have the opportunity to cram that spotted banana in your mouth while your class is in the cafeteria, you might as well go ahead and fuel yourself, too. Lunch in classrooms still means lots of monitoring for teachers, so you still might only get in a few bites.

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10. Play a video.

If you have a class full of talkers, you might need to do something to minimize the chatter since they won’t have masks on while eating. Have a specific video series ready that you only watch at lunch, such as Sesame Street (even high schoolers get into it!) or Bill Nye, Science Guy

Lunch in classrooms is a big change. However, it offers new ways to bond with your students and extend learning. Many schools also have breakfast in classrooms. These tips can be used for that meal as well. Bon appétit!

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Lunch in Classrooms is Adding More Stress for Teachers - 10 Tips to Make It Easier

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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