Rep. Dodge introduces bill to support students and reduce food waste

Mon, 03/27/2023 - 12:30pm

AUGUSTA — Rep. Jan Dodge, D-Belfast, recently introduced legislation to require school administrative units to provide a 30-minute lunch period for Maine students.

“When children do not have enough time to eat, they often leave food behind on the tray,” said Dodge. “This creates two problems: hungry students and more food waste. By creating a standard lunch length, we can ensure our students have enough time to get to the cafeteria, make it through the line and sit down to eat before the period ends and they are shuttled off to their next period. Giving students more time to finish their meal has the added benefit of less food being tossed out.”

As a former educator, Dodge understands that there could be logistical challenges making implementation difficult for some schools, so the bill includes an opt-out process. If the school board of a school administrative unit holds a public hearing on creating a 30-minute lunch period and determines implementation to be impractical, then the school would not be required to implement it.

In 2021, the Maine Department of Education conducted a survey of food service directors to better understand the current length of lunch periods in Maine schools and the impact a 30-minute lunch period would have.

“There were two big takeaways for me from this survey,” said Dodge. “First, over 20% of elementary and high schools and 36% of middle schools have lunch periods that are only 15 to 20 minutes long. And second, 60% of schools have a 6 to 10-minute wait for the last student in line to be served their meal.”

LD 1002 also directs schools, where possible, to provide a table or other space where students may return unconsumed food or beverage items.

The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee will hold a work session on the bill in the coming weeks.

Dodge, who represents the towns of Belfast, Belmont and Northport, is serving her third term in the Maine House. She sits on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.