From the Files of Mrs. Q: Teacher Eats School Lunch, Blogs Results

Teacher blogs her year of eating school lunch, when she can stomach it.

March 18, 2010, 10:14 AM

March 19, 2010— -- Call her the 007 of school lunches, the Sherlock Holmes of the school cafeteria.

Or just call her Mrs. Q. That's the moniker chosen by the anonymous teacher who has vowed to eat school lunches for a year and blog the results in hopes of inspiring change at her school and others around the country.

"Let's feed all kids well," she told "Who can argue with that?"

Her blog, Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project, has been catching fire in recent weeks as she chokes down the bad stuff -- lasagna and bitter-tasting mystery veggies -- and surprises herself by enjoying meals like chili and mac and cheese.

Though she's hardly the first to complain about meals from a school cafeteria, her blog has been catching the eye of student health advocates as well as detractors, one of whom called her a "vegetarian hippie."

"They're attacking my character or they're saying this country's going down the tubes and we should be grateful for what we've got," she said.

But most shower her with praise for volunteernig to eat the only options many of her students have. Her number of followers has exploded from a few hundred earlier this week to nearly 3,000 today.

Mrs. Q said she wishes she could take credit for a moment of grand inspiration that prompted her to start a school food revolution, but in reality, her blog was born after just a couple of unfortunate experiences with school meals.

"There were times I was forced to have a school lunch because I forgot my lunch," she said. "And I just remember thinking this is terrible, I can't believe this."

"A lot of the other teachers ignore it," she said.

And many of the students and parents, she said, simply don't know any better.

"A lot of these kids I work with are poor, so they aren't packed lunches," she said.

Mrs. Q called some of the menu items "deceptive," such as boasting meatloaf, which it was actually a dull-brown meat patty.

The meatloaf entry on March 3 also contained Mrs. Q's disappointment with mystery greens that could have been spinach, could have been collard greens. She posted a picture and asked her readers to help her identify what she ate.

Mrs. Q: Blogging Her Way Through the School Cafeteria has confirmed that the school district where Mrs. Q works has a contract with Chartwells, which is owned by Compass Group. Compass Group is affiliated with several fast-food brand partners, including Wendy's, Chick-fil-A, and Subway.

A spokeswoman for Compass Group said a Chartwells representative had viewed the pictures on Mrs. Q's blog and said the wrapping indicated it came from a subcontractor, not Chartwell's directly. They could not offer any information on the subcontractor without knowing which school district employed Mrs. Q.

In an e-mailed statement, Chartwells said it was committed to healthy food for students and that students as well as parents and employees are welcome to provide feedback.

"While we're unable to comment on the food pictured, because it is neither representative of our food nor in fact, is it a Chartwells prepared meal, I can tell you that Chartwells has a strong commitment to provide healthy meals," the statement read. "Since each school district is structured differently according to its needs and logistics, sometimes a district utilizes more than one food service contractor to provide meals."

So far, Mrs. Q said, the blog hasn't caught on at her school, though she's nervous she'll face reprecussions if her anonymous cover is blown.

"School districts are running out of money and want to cut people," she said, calling her school "middle of the road" in terms of resources. "I can't predict how my principal would react to this. I really like my school and I don't want a different job."

But she has offered a few tidbits about herself. She's in her 30s and is the mother of a young son. She considers herself "middle class" and admits to having no formal training in nutrition.

She has also begun offering up her project to guest bloggers. One, a teacher in Japan, posted pictures and a description of the sushi, vegetables and fruit his students eat.

Another, listed only as Ms. A, identified herself as an employee of a school food service provider and a one-time New York City chef. Ms. A, who has her own blog, Brave New Lunch, reported that she had studied the contents of school-distributed cheese pizza and found it contained a whopping 62 ingredients: 25 in the crust, 14 in the sauce, four in the cheese and 19 in the cheese substitute.

In a Jan. 17 blog about herself, Mrs. Q said she'd probably be one of the last people school officials would suspect of starting a project like this one.

"In my professional life, I don't make waves," she wrote. "I avoid conflict. I'm a 'yes' man."

Mrs. Q had a checkup before starting the project in January, she told, and again about a month ago and has not gained any weight from her new diet. She admits she's not always able to eat more than a few bites. And she eats healthy away from school.

"We love what she's doing," Kathryn Strong, a dietician with the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine's Healthy School Lunch project, which advocates for healthier food choices in schools. "I think it's great that she's putting pictures up."

Among the worst offenses many school food service providers are committing are repeatedly serving "highly processed, low-quality animal products," and not giving students another option.

Congress, Michelle Obama, Mrs. Q Take on School Lunches

The content of school lunches has gotten all the way to the White House in recent months, with first lady Michelle Obama pushing for healthier options in schools as part of her campaign on childhood obesity.

And a new bill in Congress, Healthy School Meals Act of 2010, would reward districts with additional food aid for offering more vegetarian options in their cafeterias and healthy, non-dairy beverages.

"We found that kids are very open to trying new foods, to eating healthy foods, but you've got to give them the choice," Strong said.

PCRM annually ranks the best and worst school districts in a report card, based on self-reporting by the districts. In 2008, the most recent report available, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland was on top of the list with an A, offering four low-fat side dishes and salad dressings every day and menu items such as black bean burgers.

East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Lousiana was graded an F, with PCRM noting that fresh fruit was limited and healthy, vegetarian items were "rarely or never available."

Mrs. Q said her school offers students -- and anonymous blogging teachers -- one hot lunch option with one meatless alternative.

She said she's tried to talk with her students about their meals, but they usually just tell her what they think she wants to hear -- how they ate all of their vegetables for example -- instead of giving her their honest opinions.

So far, Mrs. Q's favorite school lunch has been the chili. Her least favorite was what she described as a peanut butter and jelly "thing."

"It was just so wrong that it was given to kids," she said.

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