9-year-old food critic reviews school lunches, gives low marks

Published: Tuesday, May 22 2012 12:25 p.m. MDT

The first meal Martha Payne wrote about. This meal received the following rating: Food-o-meter- 6/10. Mouthfuls- forgot to count but not enough! Courses- main/dessert. Health Rating- 4/10. Price - 2 pounds. Pieces of hair - 0!

NeverSeconds

While first lady Michelle Obama and chef Jamie Oliver share their messages about revolutionizing school lunches through national media outlets, a 9-year-old student is documenting her experience from the front lines.

Scottish grade student Martha Payne launched the blog NeverSeconds at the end of April documenting her school lunch experiences. Her ratings are based on the food-o-meter (or overall taste), mouthfuls (or portions), health, courses and pieces of hair found in the dish. In only 10 blog posts, there have been two hairs found, and not a lot of nutrition.

Her first blog post included a dried out rectangle of cheese pizza, a fried cheese stick, half a tablespoon of corn and a mini muffin. She rated the meal as a 6/10 for taste but stated that there wasn't enough food to keep her full for the rest of the school day and ranked it as a 4/10 for health.

The second meal was a skinny gray piece of hamburger with a few thin cucumber slices, two fried cheese sticks and a Popsicle. Although she ranked the taste a 7/10, the meal's nutrition only scored a 2/10.

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

In 2010, President Obama signed the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kinds Act" , a law that would promote healthier school lunches. Under this law, the government would help schools pay for some of the increased costs of the more nutritional lunches, as well as "a la carte" foods on the lunch line and snacks in vending machines, in addition to the free and low-income meals.

In January, first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new nutritional guidelines for school lunches, which include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Popular lunch dishes like pizza wouldn't disappear from lunchrooms under the new guidelines but instead would be made with healthier ingredients and less sodium. For the first time, trans fats would be banned, and the overall sodium content would gradually decrease over the next 10 years.

In addition, milk will have to be low in fat, and any flavored milk will have to be low fat.

Although the new improvements have been defined, they haven't been enforced as well as the government had hoped. Congress blocked the Agriculture Department from implementing some of the desired changes including limiting French fries and pizza, as well as allowing only two serving of potatoes a week.

In November, a bill passed that allowed the department to count tomato paste on pizzas as a vegetable. Some Conservatives in Congress have objected to the changes, stating that the government shouldn't be telling children what to eat, and some school districts have objected to the requirements, stating they are too extreme and would be too costly, adding to the already rising lunch prices. The average price for school lunch is $2.46 in 2011.

These changes to school lunch requirements are expected to be implemented in schools as early as September, and others will be phased in over time.

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