A volunteer at a southwest Fresno elementary school is making it her personal mission to encourage 6- and 7-year-olds to eat more healthfully — even if it means tweeting about school lunch hamburgers she calls “god-awful terrible.”
Delaine Zody, a chaplain with the Fresno Police Department who volunteers twice weekly at Columbia Elementary — she helps teachers, reads to students and provides other assistance as needed — says she’s typically the only adult who waits in line alongside first- and second-graders at the lunch hour for a tray of food.
Zody, who is a retired Fresno High teacher, started the routine a few months ago when she noticed many young ones would ditch their fruits and veggies without so much as a bite.
“They of course open what they like first, and the vegetables just get tossed,” she said. Zody saw a challenge and took it. How could she get kids to eat their greens? To start, she’d have to try the food herself.
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Zody began chronicling her lunch room escapades, tweeting and Instagramming photos of plastic lunch trays filled with cucumber slices and a burrito one day, and chicken nuggets and peaches the next. The students began taking note, and many are now proud to show her they’ve cleaned their trays — vegetables and all.
“The food, I’m quite impressed with it, but as I was telling my friends about it, they were asking, what does this stuff look like?” she said. “That’s how it started and now the kids get a kick out of it. They know I’m going to pull out my phone and take a picture of my food.”
A scan down Zody’s Instagram feed, featuring photos of green broccoli florets, bagged apple slices and mashed potatoes, highlights the best and worst food she’s eaten at school. She pays $2 for her meal, but all Fresno Unified kids get their food for free.
One of her first photos, a hamburger she ate in November, is posted with the tag line “really bad hamburger.”
“I took two bites and I had to stop,” she said. Although some students chowed down on their burgers, “these are kids who are used to fast food hamburgers,” she added.
Zody’s posts aren’t the same as the now famous #ThanksMichelleObama photos that flooded Twitter in the fall, showing unappealing school lunch options with the sarcastic hashtag as a jab at first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy lunch program that went into effect in 2014.
The hashtag exploded on nationwide social media at the beginning of the school year, when youngsters with smart phones took shots of soggy green beans and mushy meat patties in protest of the new healthier food rules.
Unlike those social media complainers, Zody finds most of Columbia’s food tasty. She’s particularly fond of the breaded beef patty.
Zody admits she was pleased when she took a look at her school’s January and February lunch menus — both sans hamburgers — a move she guessed may have been influenced by her posts.
But Fresno Unified food officials say it’s merely a coincidence. Hamburgers will be back in rotation in March, said food services director Jose Alvarado.
Nonetheless, some changes may be in the works, he said. To prevent sogginess, the district is looking at new packaging for certain items. New menu options are also on their way, including chili Colorado with brown rice, which debuts in February.
The district serves about 90,000 meals — breakfasts and lunches — each day, Alvarado said, many of which are prepacked at the district’s mega-kitchen in central Fresno. That’s a lot of food, especially when it comes to simply getting kids to eat and not trash it.
Most meals feature a combination of a main dish, like a sandwich or pasta, with two vegetables and a piece of fruit.
“Having kids eat (certain foods) is a challenge, but if we focus on what the kids like and introduce new menu items, they’re more likely to eat,” Alvarado said.
Zody said she’ll just be happy if she can encourage her students to try more nutritious foods.
“In the two months I’ve been doing this, they’ve really seen a turnaround,” she said.