Washington state Auditor Pat McCarthy’s office recently completed an audit of school lunches that provides some information to, well, chew on and digest.

Investigators in the Auditor’s Office observed 31 elementary schools across Washington state in the past school year. McCarthy said her investigators found nearly all the schools did not give every student at least 20 minutes to eat, which is the amount of time those who study such things believe is the amount of time for kids need to properly consume and digest a meal.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal welcomed the report and agrees that lack of time for eating a nutritious lunch is concerning.

“It affects their learning and we spend a lot of taxpayer money and state dollars, private dollars to make sure kids eat,” Reykdal said.

But just providing enough time for students to eat does not alone solve the problem. A key to getting children to eat at lunch time is having recess before lunch time rather than after it.

When recess follows lunch, the kids either scarf down their food in seconds or they eat only a little of it so they can get out on the playground as fast as possible.

“You have to get recess first, they are active and they sit down and know that the 20 minutes is just for eating,” Reykdal said.

Between McCarthy’s and Reykdal’s offices, the problem seems to have been well diagnosed and a reasonable solution has been suggested.

Yet, Reykdal — who requested the audit — concedes a variety of factors make it challenging to make certain each student spends at least 20 minutes focusing on consuming foods.

However, he plans to get the ball rolling. He said he intends to push to mandate the 20 minutes at schools after a lot of input from administrators.

“If they need more recess monitoring or they need a longer school day or whatever they think is the right way to pull this off and it’s research-backed we are going to be more than happy to advocate the Legislature to get what they need,” Reykdal said.

This common-sense approach to addressing genuine concern is appreciated. It shouldn’t cost much, if anything, and could improve learning for many students.

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