“The president’s wife ruined our school lunches.” – My 4th grade daughter.

“When is the next election dad?” My 9-year-old McRae asked one day.

As a parent, that’s an exciting question to hear from your child. What a great dad I must be! My fourth grader is already civic minded. She’s curious about democracy in our country and is asking how she might get involved in the issues that are shaping our world.

“It’s in 2016 McRae.”

“Good,” she responded, “The president’s wife ruined our school lunches. Maybe it will get better then.”

If I made a list of “reasons my daughter would be interested in the election,” that would not have cracked the top 100.

I joked with McRae for a few minutes about her concerns with the quality of the school lunch and then we talked about other things. I thought the lunch discussion was a passing whimsy.

Three days later, McRae came downstairs with a letter she wanted me to mail to First Lady Michelle Obama. Here is what she wrote:

“Mrs. Obama,

I’m writing to you about how bad the cafeteria food is.

Every couple days I buy lunch. The pizza crust is whole grain and it’s gnarly. All the chips are oven baked and they don’t sell pudding. ☹ I know you are fighting childhood obesity. Always I hungry after lunch. There is something that really concerns me. Lots of people in my class buy multiple ice creams and chips and only eat that for lunch.

Above all my friends in 4th grade and me wish for decent food at NAME OF SCHOOL SHE ATTENDS in Franklin, Tennessee.


McRae Acuff.”

Thanks Obama

There are a few things I’d like to point out about this letter.

1. Thank goodness my kid doesn’t know the phrase “Thanks Obama” or she probably would have started the letter that way. Instead she absolutely crushes the first line, addressing her key point right out of the gate. “I’m writing to you about how bad the cafeteria food is.”

2. She’s pretty clear about her main objectives. The pizza crust is whole grain and as a result, gnarly. The chips are oven baked, which is apparently not desirable either. And, crime of all crimes, they don’t even sell pudding any more.

3. She acknowledges First Lady Michelle Obama’s key objective, “fighting childhood obesity.” I’m not even sure where she learned this phrase but good for her recognizing the opposition’s chief aim.

4. Not only does she recognize the issue of childhood obesity, but she points out the fatal error of the new approach to cafeteria food – kids are still eating junk. She’s right on that point; I’ve eaten lunch with her and watched as kids ate multiple ice creams instead of their lunch. Baked chips might be better, but three bags of baked Cheetos does not a vegetable make.

5. She summarizes the whole thing like a champ. “Above all my friends in 4th grade and me wish for decent food …” She’s not asking for filet mignon or Parmesan kale salad with raisins. All she’s asking for is “decent food.” You can almost hear her standing on the cafeteria tables to rally the other fourth graders, imploring them Newsies-style to “Open the gates and seize the day!”

I’d like to think that McRae wrote this letter because her dad writes books like Do Over and she was inspired by own plucky crusade to help people actually enjoy what they do for a living, but I can’t take credit for this.

McRae likes pudding and someone messed with it.

End of story.

  • Scott
    Posted at 06:20h, 17 September Reply

    McRae for President! At least of the 4th grade at NAME OF SCHOOL SHE ATTENDS.

  • David Mike
    Posted at 06:21h, 17 September Reply

    The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and it probably finds itself in a healthy lunch menu. Thanks Obama.

  • Joey E
    Posted at 06:22h, 17 September Reply

    As a defense of schools (and our younger kids are homeschooled, so I just eat lunch in school when I meet with my mentee), I haven’t had an issue with them. Some lunches are better than others, but for schools here kids get 2 or 3 choices. And when we lived in a high-poverty school district, you could get a very nice chef salad, for $3.50 (for adults). But the next school district didn’t offer that.

    My point . . . The quality varies from school district to school district. And that often is because of one person — the district food service director.

    One option that I’ve read about — paying students who eat their vegetables. It’s a small amount, or maybe a reward after earning a certain # of points. But schools that have done that have seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of food thrown away.

    • Joey E
      Posted at 06:23h, 17 September Reply

      But then again, I don’t think this post was meant to start a serious discussion. Kudos to McRae for taking the initiative to write this letter!

  • Andrew Beck
    Posted at 06:24h, 17 September Reply

    That is good stuff. Glad she’s still giving you good material.

  • Jenn P
    Posted at 06:35h, 17 September Reply

    Go McRae! My 7th grade daughter would totally agree with you!!! She asks me to make her a lunch every single day. Are you going to mail the letter Jon?

  • Carrie Willard
    Posted at 06:42h, 17 September Reply

    McRae just learned about the law of unintended consequences.

    Look at me! I’m the king of New Yooooooork!

  • Baking nuts
    Posted at 06:52h, 17 September Reply

    I’ve always taught my kids to be expressive while being respectful. Mcrae pulls this off like a champ!
    Mcrae 2016

  • John Farrar
    Posted at 06:54h, 17 September Reply

    We leave so much to the public school to teach our children that should come from the home. While we may not eat only whole wheat it is a shame that she does not say it doesn’t taste like our pizza daddy! We as adults should lead as models. We should also teach good reasoning.

    If they are going to eat junk either way, those are not the ones you reach at first. Reading a book like Switch by the Heath brothers and teaching her how to bring change would be a great response. Not just you spoiled lunch, but how can we more effectively do the good things the program is failing to achieve?

  • lynne
    Posted at 06:58h, 17 September Reply

    I hear these same comments ALL day EVERY day as an Assistant Principal…and the parents complain too because they can’t raise money for our school by selling food students like either! Go McRae!!!

  • Ben Landers
    Posted at 07:11h, 17 September Reply

    As a Elementary Teacher Phys Ed Teacher – this is my favorite of your posts, I was cracking up because I’ve heard kids at school make similar comments.

    McRae sounds like she knows her stuff – she might be the leader we need to bring stuffed crust pizza back to the Cafeteria.

    I like the point about kids buying ice cream/chips instead of lunch, bc that’s exactly what happens at my school as well #programfail

    Keep it up McRae

  • Judy
    Posted at 07:14h, 17 September Reply

    I hope you mail her letter. I think Mrs Obama needs to hear this from a kid’s prospective. If the kids won’t eat the healthy choices, what’s the point.

  • Ashley - Embracing Homemaking
    Posted at 07:57h, 17 September Reply

    This totally made my day! What a letter! Good for her. 🙂

  • Kevin A
    Posted at 08:09h, 17 September Reply

    I’m not a parent yet, but it seems to me that these schools are failing in their attempt to correct parental wrongs. As a kid who grew up morbidly obese from age three (no lie–was 250 lbs. by 6th grade), I know that no school can compensate for lack of quality parenting.

    Making sure kids come of age healthy and fit is paramount, yet it seems apparent to me that public education has attempted to become the “parents” to the un-parented. If kids were fed wholesome food at home, they would desire it at school. The First Lady’s motive is noble–regardless of political persuasion. However, the failure of this program exemplifies how much influence a person’s parents have for the first eighteen years of life. Many already overworked, yet underpaid teachers are being forced into being counselors, parents and caregivers at best and babysitters and daycare providers at worst.

    Several members of my family are teachers, and in their view the situation is bleak across most demographics. They know their “industry” can’t handle the pressure it’s being asked to carry. They have their own kids to raise…they shouldn’t be asked to fill a vacuum.

  • Susan T
    Posted at 08:18h, 17 September Reply

    We’ve had the exact same conversation at our house! Just the other day, my 12-year-old said to me, “None of the kids at my school like Michelle Obama.” “Why?” “Because she’s ruined lunch time! It used to be something we looked forward to; a bright spot in the day. Now it’s just depressing and sad.” I pictured prisoners in striped hats grumpily bent over their gruel, sopping it with stale bread.

  • Brenda
    Posted at 08:19h, 17 September Reply

    Oh my gosh! You go, McRae!!! My kids stand behind you! No one eats school lunches. They go hungry instead, then go home and eat a Halloween sized bucket of junk food.

    And from a mom’s perspective… that food is not healthy. It is made in a huge “factory” in the middle of town, packaged into trays and delivered to the school twice a week. Each day, the “cafeteria ladies” reheat the food so the kids can throw it all in the trash. Good thing they throw in a cookie every now and then or there would be no war on obesity. It was become a war on childhood starvation. I hate packing lunches for my kids. But hey… they’ve gotta eat lunch, and I can’t depend on Michelle Obama to feed them anything, healthy or not.

  • Scott
    Posted at 08:25h, 17 September Reply

    Well, did you mail the letter for her? With anticipation, I await the post with Mrs. Obama’s reply . . .

  • Becky Noffsinger
    Posted at 08:32h, 17 September Reply

    Way to go McRae for taking action! There is hope– my husband is a school food director and gets compliments all the time about the lunches his staff serves. It takes a little creativity and the support of a community, but it can be done. Change is hard. The next time you’re in Michigan, stop by for lunch, and we can talk about how things like funding and corporate lobbying affects the food you eat at school. Keep up the good work!

  • Dawn
    Posted at 08:32h, 17 September Reply

    Dear McRae,
    Socialism leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth – that’s what makes school lunch so undesirable. Remember that as you make your own lunch.
    A Taxpayer

  • Susan T
    Posted at 08:33h, 17 September Reply

    Before all the dietary restrictions at school, when my daughter was about 7 or 8, she came home quite excited. “We have an olive cart at our school!” (I pictured one of those free-standing units at gourmet grocery stores featuring all manner of black, green, and Greek. What kind of fancy school was this?!) “So does it have black or green olives?” I asked. Puzzled, she looked at me and replied, “There’s no olives. It’s stuff like chips, pretzels, crackers, cookies. You know, sides.” Ohhh, you mean a la cart!

  • SB
    Posted at 08:40h, 17 September Reply

    Your daughter’s letter is awesome! You should be proud. She was polite & respectful, clear & concise. She got right to the point & even gave specific examples to illustrate it. Also, I’ve been hearing numerous complaints for several years about how, to quote your daughter, “[t]he president’s wife ruined . . . school lunches” from my two teenagers.

  • Monica
    Posted at 08:47h, 17 September Reply

    Fantastic letter, McRae! I know some working adults who could benefit from those writing skills. However, I fear it’s not going to bring about the change I believe you desire. Michelle Obama doesn’t dictate what is in your – or any of the other objecting posters’ – school lunches. Assuming you want actual change (and aren’t just griping, as so many grownups do), that fabulously written letter should be sent to the person who oversees and implements the school lunches in your school district. Mrs. Obama merely helped institute new guidelines, at which some schools are winning, and others, like yours, not so much. But don’t waste all that effort and talent talking to the hand. Find that district supervisor and bombard his/her office with letters, emails, tweets, etc. from you and all your classmates! Good luck and keep writing!

    • Becky Noffsinger
      Posted at 09:28h, 17 September Reply

      Amen! Schools and their communities play a HUGE part in this!

    • Dee
      Posted at 21:42h, 17 September Reply

      Evidently you haven’t seen school lunches lately. Other states are as bad or worse. Most of the food in our local cafeterias is pre-packaged cardboard. No fresh prepared meals for our students. I do feel the First Lady has contributed to this issue. I would say the districts can’t afford to provide both nutritious and tasty meals. I feel the cafeteria prepared foods before her changes were more nutritious and less fattening that ice cream and baked chips. I do agree with and understand her purpose with the new guidelines but adequate funding needs to be provided for said changes.

  • emily
    Posted at 09:01h, 17 September Reply

    my dad grows a farm to school garden in rural community in Kentucky that almost all kids are on free lunches. they may not have food at home let alone fresh vegetables. He would cheer McRae on with her proclamation. I’ve never seen my Dad so mad as he is at Mrs. Obama and her trying to regulate obesity on kids who don’t even have food at home. I get in cities like Nashville, Atlanta, or Louisville can have local government involved to change the habits of their school lunches. but who is speaking up for the kids who live in already impoverished communities that go hungry because their parents are addicted to meth and don’t have any food in the house?

  • Peter
    Posted at 09:21h, 17 September Reply

    MacRae apparently doesn’t understand (nor has she been taught it seems) that many of her classmates do not eat nutriuos meals at home (like I’m sure McRae does). And that school may be the only place where some of her classmates could get nutriuos food their parents otherwise would not be able to afford.
    Perhaps McRae’s problem is bigger than one of “good food.”

    • MidwestKate
      Posted at 10:10h, 17 September Reply


    • Zach
      Posted at 10:51h, 17 September Reply

      I bet you are a riot at parties.

    • JT Adamson
      Posted at 13:12h, 17 September Reply

      1. I think you missed the point of the post
      2. The kids aren’t getting nutritious food at school because they, like McRae, think it tastes gross. Putting it on their trays isn’t the same as putting it in their bodies.
      3. A kid gets 180 school lunches a year. There are 1095 meals a year that we eat, which means that school lunches comprise, at the most, 17% of a child’s meals in a year. Imagine trying to change your health by improving 17% of your meals.
      4. This post (and McRae’s letter) is much cooler than my comment.

  • KC
    Posted at 09:30h, 17 September Reply

    You do not mess with a 4th grader’s pudding.

    This wins the internets today! 🙂

    Seriously though, school lunches are ruined. Like McRae, I understand the chief aim of Mrs. Obama, but just because you offer healthy options doesn’t mean it tastes good to a 4th grader (or their parents). And you can’t make kids eat something they don’t want to. Parents have been trying this for years!

    I wonder if the Obama children eat their baked chips and kale salads at lunch? Or do they chomp down on whole grain free pizza and laugh at the commonwealth kids doomed to consuming cardboard discs?

    Not to mention that all the healthy food that goes uneaten in the cafeterias gets thrown away! (Google it)

    • Peter
      Posted at 09:58h, 17 September Reply

      I’m sure the Obama’s feed their family nutriuosly like yourself. They simply have the heart and compassion to do something about it!

      • MidwestKate
        Posted at 10:13h, 17 September Reply

        Actually my kids, because we introduced them to a variety of foods, prefer kale salads and whole grain pizza. I personally get tired of people thinking kids only eat certain things, namely pasta, pizza (non wheat crust), and any white vegetable, and chicken nuggets.

        Our district always has had a lot of food thrown away prior to Michelle’s initiative. That isn’t a result of of the Obama’s. That is a separate issue.

  • Lori
    Posted at 09:44h, 17 September Reply

    Instead of bashing Mrs Obama on the internet, why not go to your local school board meeting or pack the kid’s lunch? The local Catholic school where we live decided that they would thumb their noses at this issue, so they brought in Chick-Fil-A and Papa Johns for the kids to inhale thousands of calories. Not smart. I am not a fan of the Obamas but telling our children to eat what they want to spite them is ludicrous. Pudding was never covered by the constitution.

  • Cheryl Barker
    Posted at 10:27h, 17 September Reply

    Love this, Jon 🙂 Good for McRae and her pudding crusade! 🙂

  • Jordan
    Posted at 10:27h, 17 September Reply

    As a parent of a kindergartener, I completely understand your frustrations. The new, “healthy,” choices of our school lunchrooms are less than stellar. I mean, how awesome of quality can that baked fish be for less than $2.00? Pretty awful? Yep… you nailed it. Good for you- let’s get some healthy, decent choices back in the lunchrooms, so that kids aren’t completely turned off and go straight for the double order of Cheetos and ice cream. Hopefully you send that letter in the mail to Mrs. Obama. Your voice is just as important as any other. You are certainly speaking on behalf of many disappointed students along with their parents too. Good for you McRae- such a SMART little girl! Keep it up 🙂

  • KS
    Posted at 10:33h, 17 September Reply

    My child just finished high school in May.She ate at school for breakfast and lunch.I totally understand the healthy aspect of this.But,for breakfast alot of the times they srved a whoe grain biscui with chicken.Whole grain biscuit!? Even sounds nasty! The pizza was whole grain crust too.There was a shelf that food was put on if a person didnt like it instead of throwing it away and it would get so full,they would rake the food in the trash anyway! What a waste! Thank goodness now she can make her own choices in college.

  • Amy Tilson
    Posted at 11:09h, 17 September Reply

    Am I the only one that actually sees this as a post about effective writing in a succinct and bold way? Make your point, support it, address your opponent’s objections, call for a resolution. Well done McRae. Thanks for a prime example of persuasive writing in a simplified manner, Jon!

    • John
      Posted at 11:28h, 17 September Reply

      Agreed. Jon did a good job of pointing out what McRae did well.

      Pretty impressive that a 9-year old did what a lot of us grown-ups don’t seem to have a handle on.

  • Kate Johns
    Posted at 11:15h, 17 September Reply

    McRae needs her own blog!!

  • Ashlin
    Posted at 12:23h, 17 September Reply

    She will do great things.

  • Franklin
    Posted at 13:52h, 17 September Reply

    Oh McRae, if only school lunches were the biggest thing ruined by the Obamas…

    • Peter
      Posted at 13:58h, 17 September Reply

      Here we go again bashing the Obama’s…

      • Franklin
        Posted at 14:08h, 17 September Reply

        if speaking the truth is “bashing” then I am sorry. I’m sure I’m not the only one on here who doesn’t have as high regard a for the current administration as you do.

        • Deborah Smith
          Posted at 13:45h, 18 September Reply

          If Michelle Obama said the sky is blue and cheese tastes good there would be people contesting her on both points. Same people who think Bush/Cheney were holy. Gawd. As for school lunches, since when have they ever not sucked? When I was a kid they fed us white bread sandwiches stuffed with sweetened peanut butter. The succotash was barely rehydrated. After the last class the coaches would open the concession stand by the gym and we’d crowd up to buy giant candy bars and Cokes to take on the buses.

  • Mister Precedent
    Posted at 14:29h, 17 September Reply

    It sounds like McRae is parroting an adult with an agenda but few facts. Hopefully she won’t have to wait for a response from Mrs. Obama to be taught that Mrs. Obama does NOT control the food served in her (or any) school. That’s determined by your LOCAL school district.

    If McRae and other kids were served healthy food at home, it wouldn’t seem so foreign to them at school. The fact that she expects to consume pudding every day for lunch shows that Mrs. Obama’s efforts to educate parents about nutrition are sorely needed. It’s sad that parents would choose politics and laziness over their children’s health.

    • Ronnie
      Posted at 14:34h, 17 September Reply

      Somehow I feel like the “healthy” food at schools are of a substantially lower quality than the same food cooked at home. So even if a child is served good items at home, it doesn’t necessarily translate to being the same thing the schools provide, which results in it not being desired.

    • sheena
      Posted at 20:53h, 17 September Reply

      I love that she wrote a letter voicing her frustrations! I will say that the school district does not have control over what they serve IF they have any kids recieving free and reduced lunches. This is a federal program and if they do not follow the guidlines, they will be dropped from the program. So, Yes they could shop around for different food service providers, but they do have to serve specific types of healthy items.

  • Corinne
    Posted at 16:43h, 17 September Reply

    Or just maybe she has had awesome teachers who have taught her how to write. ?

  • Commonsense
    Posted at 21:15h, 17 September Reply

    Maybe the issue is her school cafeteria workers don’t know how to prepare food. The school needs to learn how to prepare nutritious but tasty food with a treat here and there. If this was any other first lady fighting obesity she would be supported especially by a farmer who grows fresh food. I’ve never heard of a farmer criticizing fresh wholesome food so that letter is highly suspect.

  • LJ Robers
    Posted at 00:04h, 18 September Reply

    Bloody effing hell! White privileged much??? Remember the days when you were told to each what was on your plate as there were children staving in…….?

    Perhaps if this child were educated into what it’s like to be poor, she might be a bit less of a ponce. Perhaps had the parents been feeding her nutritionally at home, she wouldn’t think whole-wheat pizza crust was awful. Perhaps her family ought to try to live on SNAP benefits for a month so she could appreciate what she has. Perhaps they should go to a food kitchen and see what is served there and realized this is the ONLY meal those people will have all day.

    Take the ice cream and pudding OUT of the school, along with flavoured milk. Feed them nutritional food. As my Gram used to say, if you’re hungry, you’ll eat it.

    I am completely disgusted by this child, the article and those who think this “poor little child” should be indulged. Teach her the reality of world hunger and that some are thrilled to receive watered rice. Get out of your privileged bubbles and introduce yourselves, and your children, to the hard realities of the world. And then be damned grateful for every single thing you have.

  • Erin
    Posted at 00:37h, 18 September Reply

    Seriously? I have a 4th grader also and she’s too young to have a single clue what school lunches were like pre-Obama because he was elected before she was in preschool. Newsflash: your clue hasn’t got a clue either since, like my child, Obama was elected when our kids were barely old enough for preschool.

    Since she’s my youngest I can’t say I’m exactly familiar with the school lunches of the Bush or Clinton eras, but I’ve had some school lunches on family days the last few years and I CAN say with 100% certainty than they’re about 5000 times better than the glob they used to slap onto our plates in the 80s. Remember when they tried to say that ketchup counted as a vegetable?? LOL.

    If your school lunches suck, maybe you should try complaining to your school district first. If you’re loud enough, they might hire a cafeteria contractor who knows how to make pizza or something.

  • Jen
    Posted at 16:24h, 18 September Reply

    This is so funny because my kids have complained on many occasions that school lunches are horrible and attributed it to Michelle Obama! They complain about the quality and say “Thanks Michelle Obama!” We’re from MD.

  • Sharon
    Posted at 16:31h, 18 September Reply

    It is absolutely the fault of the federal government. It you want to get federal funding to keep the cost of the lunch down you must follow the guidelines. Get out of the federal program as several New Jersey schools did and enjoy the lunch again!

  • Valerie
    Posted at 16:39h, 18 September Reply

    I think blame lies more with the schools for not getting hard enough. Our school district implemented the standards but made AMAZING delicious healthy foods. The kids beg for seconds even. We didn’t believe it until we started using the summer program. The meals are amazing, healthy, filling, and the kids love them. I honestly think the schools just need to try harder to find what works and is healthy. It is possible, they did it here.

  • Pam Richards Watts
    Posted at 18:30h, 21 September Reply

    There were a lot of takeaways here for me–but mainly it just cracked me up! My sixth grader calls public school cafeteria food “Obamafood.” Perhaps he and your daughter can skype over pudding sometime….
    Thanks Jon–and thanks so much McRae!

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