As schools prepare to return to normal schedules in the fall, there is a lot of discussion about how to “build back better,” including whether to keep or discard innovations that emerged during the pandemic — as well as other things that have been status quo for years.

According to MindShift, an NPR initiative that explores the future of learning, school lunch is one thing that is ripe for change. And students have a lot to say about it!

School lunchtime is when kids not only eat but also recharge before getting back to learning. But at many schools across the country, kids aren’t afforded much time. Some schools average just 25 minutes in the elementary years and 30 minutes for the middle and high school years, and much of that time gets eaten up by long cafeteria wait lines. A 2013 survey of parents found that 20% of their elementary-age kids had less than 15 minutes to eat.

It turns out that the amount of time kids have for lunch influences their food choices. Studies have shown that when kids have 20 minutes or less to eat, they will eat less food and skip the fruit. Even if fiber and vitamin-rich foods end up on a kids’ trays, that doesn’t mean they have time to eat them, and this food often ends up in the trash. Changing foods without addressing the time and conditions needed to eat those foods can get in the way of healthy eating.

And then there are social issues. School administrators and lunch supervisors are often trying to maintain order so that kids are safe. But ask kids what concerns them most during lunchtime and the answers are all about their peers. They don’t want to be left out, especially in middle school, when socializing means so much to developing adolescents.

Being included in conversations is so important that many students spend time in the mornings making their lunch so they don’t have to wait in the cafeteria line, giving them more time to socialize.

Which all raises the question, with students returning and in need of social-emotional support — and in-person connections — how might school leaders redesign lunchtime? And what other things that “we’ve always done this way” could also use a makeover?