9-year-old Gets School to Serve Healthier Lunches

Martha Payne's first school lunch post

9-year-old Martha Payne didn’t like the unhealthy and oftentimes unpalatable food she was being served at her school in Scotland.  So, with the help of her Dad, she started a blog documenting the day’s food with a picture and rating it on a “Food-o-meter” and a scale of 1-10 for healthiness.  She also documents the price, number of mouthfuls, and how many pieces of hair (she has gotten at least one so far!) and also accepts submissions of school lunches from around the globe to compare.

Her blog is called NeverSeconds and she writes under the name “Veg.” Her first post on May 8 showed a picture of that day’s school lunch — a small cheeseburger, two potato croquettes, three cucumber slices and a popsicle. “You don’t really get much vegetables,” she told the BBC.  Since then she has gained the attention of celebrity chef and healthy school food campaigner Jamie Oliver, who tweeted encouragement to her and sent her a signed copy of his book, and over 1 million hits on her blog.

With all the attention, her father met with the school council, which announced all students would be allowed unlimited servings of fruit, vegetables and bread.  You can see the difference in her lunch plate the next day, heaped with an extra serving of peas.  “For the first time ever I have seen at lunch cherry tomatoes, radishes, carrot and cucumber shreddings,” Martha wrote on May 15.

In the US, the National School Lunch Program feeds more than 31 million children every school day.  18 million of those children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And children today are facing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes.  One child in every four in America is overweight or obese, and one in three will develop diabetes in his or her lifetime. For African-American and Hispanic children, that number rises to one in two.  Obesity and diabetes are so destructive that today’s kids are the first in over two centuries to have shorter life expectancies than their parents.  One third of the food children eat is at school and it is the responsibility of those administering the lunches to ensure they are providing sufficient nutrients and building a strong nutritional foundation in school meals.

But many warn that simply taking away the unhealthy options and trying to force children to eat their veggies will not work. Last fall, the Los Angeles Unified School District eliminated flavored milk, chicken nuggets and other unhealthy cafeteria staples. But instead of making kids healthier, the changes sent students fleeing from school cafeterias and into a thriving black market of junk food , pizza deliveries, and family-sized bags of chips.

Martha Payne’s method seems to be the true success story.  The encouragement from her family led her to demand healthier food.  And with students joining parents and health experts to demand healthier lunch options, the school had no choice but to listen.

“Keep it up!” Jamie Oliver wrote Martha in the book he sent.

“Thanks Jamie, I do intend to keep it up!” she replied.

Visit Martha Payne’s blog NeverSeconds at http://neverseconds.blogspot.com.es/

You can learn more about school lunches and get tools to start a campaign in your own school from Jamie Oliver’s site: http://www.jamieoliver.com/us/foundation/jamies-food-revolution/school-food
And learn more about national legislation and more actions to take in your community from Slow Food USA