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Valley View is among Pleasanton, Calif., elementary schools where children have recess first...

PLEASANTON -- Fewer sandwiches tossed half-eaten into garbage cans. Fewer squabbles on the playground. More calm afternoons in the classrooms.

These outcomes, some Pleasanton Unified School District leaders say, are the results of a lunchtime recess redesign: letting students play first and eat later.

The "play-first lunch" -- currently being used in numerous states and nearby at San Ramon's Hidden Hills Elementary School -- is gaining ground in Pleasanton, where seven of the nine district elementary schools now use the program.

"It's kind of a step away from tradition," said Rafael Cruz, principal at Valley View Elementary School, which is trying out the schedule this school year.

Frank Castro, the district's director of child nutrition services, introduced the program after speaking with other directors, visiting Hidden Hills and reading research -- particularly from Montana where it is used throughout the state -- about the benefits of the concept.

"I've always been aware of kids just rushing through lunch, throwing away food," he said. "It's been buil