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

Martha Payne, 9-year-old food critic and school lunch reformer. (Rex Photos/AP)Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama may be commanders of a healthy school lunch revolution. But a 9-year-old girl is on the front lines.

A Scottish grade 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 cafeteria lunches.

With help from her dad, Dave, the Argyle-based student, photographed her sparse lunch tray daily 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 been one or two hairs on her lunch tray, but not much else.

One of the first lunches she reviewed included a dried-out rectangular piece of 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. Overall, Martha gives the soups at her school high marks, particularly the carrot and coriander recipe. "The soup was brilliant," she raved. Then, on May 14, a day of sausages, vegetable soup ("it tasted mainly of carrot") and roasted potatoes ("a bit small") the inevitable happened. Nestled under three cucumber slices was a single strand of hair. Martha doesn't speculate where it came from, but there's a fair chance it wasn't from her own head. Generously, she gave that meal a "food-o-meter" rating of 8, despite the small portion and the unappetizing surprise.
 
(Martha Payne/NeverSeconds) "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, via Twitter. 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.)

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In less than two weeks since launching the site, her school seems to be instituting healthy reforms, thanks to Martha, Dave, and some pressure from local media. By Thursday of last week, Martha blogged good news: "It's 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 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. That's in part because the veggie option didn't impress.

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

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Jamie Oliver's food revolution continues

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