The Sticky Issue of FOOD in the Classroom

Tel-Aviv, 1947. Summer camp for city children to help them GAIN weight. Photographer unknown.
Tel-Aviv, 1947. Summer camp for city children to help them GAIN weight. Photographer unknown.

Allowing students to eat in class, during a lesson, really is a sticky issue. It is a multi-sided problem full of “yeah, but…” that crops up mainly during lessons later on in the day or during the very first lesson of the day. In most schools in this country there are no “lunch periods”. Students (and teachers!) eat during the breaks between the lessons. One break is longer than the others to allow for eating time.

A hungry student, especially a child or a teenager, cannot concentrate. Particularly so when it comes to children who have trouble concentrating at school in the first place, though I have seen the same phenomenon with adult students.

That’s a fact, as far as I’m concerned. That hungry student might as well have been absent – he/she isn’t taking in much (if anything) of the lesson. A sheer waste of time.

One thing on its mind! (Naomi's Photos)
One thing on its mind!
(Naomi’s Photos)


If you let students munch on sandwiches as they study, you run headlong into “THE STICKY” & “THE SMELLY”.  In my classroom we have a lot of shared materials which risk getting all sticky, smudged and unpleasant. In addition, some students bring food with distinct odors, pleasant to some, offensive to others. Such smells tend to take over the room and can cause students who weren’t hungry before to become hungry too…


When I see a student whose hunger is the only thing on his/her mind I tell them to go outside for five minutes, eat and come back to class. This policy works really well with some students, who study effectively for the rest of the lesson. The problem arises particularly after gym class when the child feels particularly hungry but the time spent in the locker room “ate up” all the break time.


School management doesn’t want students outside the classrooms during the lessons when there are no hall / yard monitors. And the student is missing out on whatever is going on inside the classroom.

Not a school, but cool reflections... (Naomi's Photos)
Not a school, but cool reflections…
(Naomi’s Photos)

And a different kind of BUT…

Some students are quick to take advantage (emphasis on “some”, others emphatically do not). Why should they waste their precious break time eating when they need to talk? Why should they waste their time standing in line to buy food during the break when there are no lines during a lesson?

Now and then (since I teach in a high-school) there are a few cases of those dieting teenage girls who haven’t eaten a single thing all day and then “oh so surprisingly” (to them, not me) start feeling faint with hunger when they hit sixth period (not to mention seventh and eighth…).

I try to adhere to a policy of “drink only” during a lesson (I sometimes need a sip of water during a lesson too!) and I let the students chew gum.  But three weeks into the new school year the “absolutely dying of hunger teen” has already showed up three times.

This seems to be an issue that I cannot be completely consistent about.




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