9-year-old Food Critic Reviews School Lunches. Gives Low Marks

Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama have been commanders of a healthy school lunch revolution. But now a 9-year-old is girl is on the front lines.

A Scottish grad school student named Martha Payne has launched her own revolution in school lunch reform. It all started with a simple idea. What if food critics reviewed school lunches? Cafeterias would probably do a lot more to satisfy their customers.

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That's what Martha discovered two weeks ago, when she started the blog NeverSeconds, a daily review of her flimsy grade school lunches.

With help from her dad Dave, Argyle-based student, photographed her sparse lunch tray and offered a Zagat-style rating system based on the following criteria: food-o-meter (or overall taste), mouthfuls (or portions), health, courses and pieces of hair. So far there's no hair on her lunch tray, but there hasn't been much else either.

One of the first lunches she reviewed included a dried-out rectangular pizza, a fried mozzarella stick, some corn droppings and a mini muffin. Another tray featured a slim grayish burger, two fried cheese sticks, an ice pop and three thin cucumber slices.

"The good thing about this blog is Dad understands why I am hungry when I get home," writes Martha.

Dad did more than sympathize, he got the attention of Food Revolution general, Jamie Oliver. After Oliver tweeted the blog to his followers describing it as "Shocking but inspirational," Martha's page views reached nearly half a million. (As of Monday, NeverSeconds is closing in on 700,000 page views and counting.)

In less than two weeks since launching the site, her school seems to be instituting reforms thanks to Martha, Dave and some pressure from local media. By Thursday of last week Martha blogged good news: "Its official that we are allowed unlimited salads, fruit and bread! I'm really happy that all of my friends can help themselves to good stuff."

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Now Martha is asking the thousands of students reading her blog to submit their own school lunch photos and ratings.

(Martha Payne/NeverSeconds)
(Martha Payne/NeverSeconds)

As much impact as policy makers and advocates like the First Lady have had on improving school lunches, student voices have been largely absent from the debate. They are, after all, the ones eating the food.

Martha's blog makes a strong argument not only for improved nutrition, but tastier healthy options. Her most recent lunch, posted last Friday, got a 9 for taste and a 4 for health.

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Despite her claims that students could now ask for more veggies at lunch, the veggie option of the day-peas-was less than savory.

"One of the peas was black" she writes. "If you look closely its the one in the middle." At least there wasn't any hair in her food.

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