What You Never Knew About Lunch Breaks In The US

Quick and easy, fast delivery, casual — such descriptors now dominate today's lunch vernacular. However, this wasn't always true. Throughout most of history, lunch didn't exist at all, and in reversal to today's times, the midday meal was called dinner. With the daily structure influenced by daylight, by the early afternoon, most had already spent hours in the fields — so the noon meal was the heftiest. The convenience-based modern lunch truly arrived with the Industrial Revolution, via BBC.

From inception in industrial cities, employment prioritized lunch as a meal on the go rather than a thoroughly considered meal, reports Insider. Such an approach is at odds with our nutritional needs, explains dietician Jen Scheinman to Well + Good. Midday is the best time to get all the necessary nutrients and to balance blood sugar, which means a snack won't cut it. Unfortunately, for many in the office, a light lunch doesn't come from choice but from workplace pressures. Let's unpack American lunch breaks.

American lunch breaks are decreasing in duration

First, let's dive into the legal regulations surrounding lunch during the workday in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, breaks that last 5 to 20 minutes are mandated to be compensated by companies. Anything longer, which includes a meal, is not accounted for and will not be salaried. While rules on the national level aren't accommodating, some states ensure their workers have time to eat. These regulations can be nit-picky and oddly specific. They range from broad rules like all employees who work a minimum of six hours earn a 30-minute lunch minimum in Tennessee, to mandated breaks being exclusively available for minors in the entertainment industry in Missouri, per Paycor.

Due to increasing fears of workplace deadlines, young people tend to take less of a break, reports SWNS Digital. Snacking is becoming more prevalent, remote work is elongating the work day, and eating at the desk is becoming the norm for 62% of Americans, according to Harvard Business Review. Such trends diminish productivity, and erase opportunities for lunchtime networking. So don't feel guilty asking to leave the office or home desk for some air and a real lunch — not only will work go by smoother, but your health will benefit too.