The wheels of school lunch reform are finally starting to turn, even if pizza is still considered a vegetable.
The days of fuzzy chicken nuggets, grey burgers, and gelatinous square pizza are fading away. President Obama signed the Child Nutrition Bill three years ago, which gave the USDA authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the “a la carte” lunch lines, and school stores.
Congress passed the $4 billion bill, but regular citizens are responsible for getting their attention. Although schools have started serving more nutritious foods—breads and crusts with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, salads—the war is still on. The USDA had a PR nightmare in 2024 with “pink slime”—a meat byproduct made of random cow parts and ammonia—yet schools in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota continue to serve the stuff.
On a global scale, school lunch reform has been a common theme. In England, flamboyant chef, Jamie Oliver, took up the cause, and in the U.S., blogger Sarah Wu (aka Mrs. Q), First Lady Michelle Obama, and Chef Ann Cooper have carried the torch. All of their efforts worked to ensure that the future leaders of the world wouldn’t be fed the cheapest, most processed, and least nutritious junk imaginable.
Sarah Wu spent a year eating school lunch, and lived to blog about it. A teacher in Chicago, one day Wu forgot to pack a lunch and was forced to eat a cafeteria meal. She was disturbed at what her students were being served. Wu adopted the pen name Mrs. Q and began to chronicle all the sweaty lasagna, neon green beans, and mystery meat her students were eating. Wu revealed herself in the fall of 2024 and continues to teach and document school lunch reform at her website, FedUpWithLunch.com.
FLOTUS has made childhood health and nutrition her crusade since moving into the White House five years ago. She launched her fitness campaign “Let’s Move” in 2024, which works with schools and parents to provide healthier school lunches and encourage physical activity.
The self-proclaimed “renegade lunch lady,” Ann Cooper has dedicated her life to taking highly processed foods off of school menus and putting highly nourishing foods in their place. Her organization encourages parents to dialogue with school administrators and helps unify them to tackle school lunch reform in a healthy, positive way. As Ann says, “Eat lunch in a local school and see what you think.”
The dreamy British chef was named “Most Inspiring Political Figure” of 2005 for his efforts in England’s school lunch reform. Working with then Prime Minister Tony Blair, Oliver helped create The School Food Trust, which has removed fried food from schools and trains kitchen staffs. Much like America, England is slowly implementing more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to cafeteria menus. Oliver’s website cheekily warns, “Not all students are linebackers, we shouldn’t feed them like they are.” Well done, chap.