9-Year-Old Food Blogger Takes On School Lunch

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Nine-year-old blogger Martha Payne takes this picture of her school lunch

Martha Payne, age 9, was dissatisfied with the lunches served by her primary school in Scotland, so she began documenting her school meals online — with photos and ratings — prompting worldwide attention for her healthy-lunch campaign.

With the help of her father, aspiring writer Martha started a blog called NeverSeconds. For each lunch she profiles, Martha gives a Food-o-Meter rating for taste and scores the lunch on a 10-point scale for health. She also tracks mouthfuls taken, cost and pieces of hair found — thankfully, none since she started blogging.

Since her first post on May 8, Martha’s blog has garnered more than 1 million page views and attracted followers including international media outlets and advocates for healthy school lunch. Among them: celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who tweeted about her blog to his fans and sent Martha a signed copy of his book with the message: “Great work!! Clever girl … Keep it up!!”

(MORE: Healthier School Lunches: Will They Actually Change What Kids Eat?)

Martha’s first post featured a lunch consisting of a pizza slice, one potato croquette, some corn and a small cupcake or muffin. She gave it a Food-o-Meter rating of 6/10, a health rating of 4/10, and as for mouthfuls taken: “forgot to count but not enough!” She wrote, “I’m a growing kid and I need to concentrate all afternoon and I cant do it on 1 croquette. Do any of you think you could?”

In a recent interview, Martha told the BBC that her school lunches are usually “a wee bit small and sometimes they’re not very nice either.”

The BBC also spoke with a Scottish school-lunch administrator, who noted that Martha’s blog captured just a tiny fraction of the million lunches served annually in Argyll and Bute in Scotland, and that schoolchildren are given a “wide range of choices we have available every day” including “a range of fruit, a wide range of veg and salad options, including things like lettuce, cherry tomatoes, fruits, watercress, I could go on.”

Martha replied on her blog: “The lady on the radio said I had a choice everyday of mini tomatoes and watercress, but I have never seen them.”

(MORE: Banning Sugared Drinks in Schools Doesn’t Lower Student Consumption)

After Martha’s blog went viral, her dad met with the school council, which announced that all students would be allowed unlimited servings of fruit, vegetables and bread, ABC News reported. Things seemed to change afterward. “For the first time ever I have seen at lunch cherry tomatoes, radishes, carrot and cucumber shreddings,” Martha wrote.

Martha announced also that Scottish celebrity chef Nick Nairn invited her family to a meeting with “loads of important people … to discuss school food and school-cooking lessons.”

School lunches in the U.S. are also a subject of heavy attention, especially from First Lady Michelle Obama whose Let’s Move! campaign aims to reverse child obesity by improving American kids’ diet and exercise habits. In January, Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled new standards for school lunch.

(MORE: The Chocolate-Milk Wars: A Mom’s Perspective)

Some of the standards include:

  • Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week
  • Substantially increasing offerings of whole-grain-rich foods
  • Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties
  • Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size
  • Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium