The following article appeared Saturday April 5th, 2008 in the Kansas City Star.
School lunch program partners with local farmers
By JENNIFER BHARGAVA The Kansas City Star
ay Cirocco no longer dreads eating lunch in her school's cafeteria.She's not alone.The sixth-grader at St. Ann Catholic School has noticed more and more of her fellow classmates piling up in the lunch line, eager for a homemade entree or a fresh glass of milk. Ever since the Prairie Village school initiated the Farm 2 School lunch program with Bistro Kids last month, the interest in school lunches there has increased.The program partners with local farmers and food producers to improve the health of school children through the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, grass fed meats and hormone-free milk.
"Childhood obesity is a big epidemic, and it's mostly due to refined sugar and foods, which are found in most schools today," said Kiersten Firquain, the owner of Bistro Kids, a Johnson County company. "We want to help kids learn how to make healthy choices. And sometimes lunch is the most nutritious meal of the day for kids, and we don't take that lightly."
Firquain and her colleagues choose fun, flavorful foods to put on the menu.
Some recent menu items included chicken Caesar wrap, bean quesadilla, winter harvest soup, honey carrot cake and banana bread.
Fridays are the most popular days - a salad bar is open with numerous choices and low-fat desserts are available.\
In the past month, several St. Ann teachers and parents have become enthralled with the program.
But the highest praise has come from the most important subjects: the students.
"I like the healthier, smaller portions and how the pizza has wheat bread," Cirroco said. "I also like how the milk doesn't come from a carton anymore, so it doesn't have that plastic taste."
Her reaction echoed the sentiments of her classmates around her, who enjoyed describing, in acute detail, how disgusting school lunches had been just months before.
Their approval pleases St. Ann School Principal Mark Huppe, who spent a year reviewing healthier lunch programs before choosing Bistro Kids.
"I'm surprised that kids are happy to eat healthy," he said. "We believe in the long run that providing more nutritious food will help kids be more physically fit and allow them to learn better in the classroom. And we've had overwhelming support from the entire community, and the number of lunches served per day has definitely gone up."
Huppe also likes how the new program offers more than just food - it actively promotes a healthy lifestyle among students.
During some lunch times area food connoisseurs set up booths in the cafeteria and provide fun facts for students.
On Friday, a local beekeeper was scheduled to set up shop at St. Ann and educate the students on honey.
A cooking specialist will also be providing demonstrations in the cafeteria and offering cooking classes for each grade.
Last week, she held a chocolate shake demonstration, which kept the cafeteria abuzz.
This summer, the school hopes to start a vegetable garden, which students in each grade would help tend. The vegetables would also be used for school lunches.
The activities excited Carrie Lane - a mother of a St. Ann second grader - so much that she started volunteering in the lunch room.
"I think the new program is wonderful because I like supporting local farmers and having my daughter eat all-natural food," she said. "The educational aspect of it - the cooking classes and the garden they might have - is amazing. I also like how the chef is open to new ideas and isn't afraid to try anything interesting."
She said she's never heard of anything like the school lunch program before
St. Ann is the first school in Kansas to use the program and it probably won't be the last.
Huppe has already received inquiries from other area Catholic schools about the program.
He's not surprised.
As a father he understand that an increasing number of families are concerned about their children's diet at school.
"Many families are so busy that they realize the food they serve their kids at home falls into the fast-food category," he said. "Now they know that one meal per day can be healthy and nutritious and benefit the entire family."
According to the chatter in the lunchroom, the healthier lunches are already prompting students to change their lifestyle.
"Now I feel much more influenced to eat more healthy foods," said Laura Dobens, a sixth-grader. "I think my parents are much happier now that I choose to eat an apple for a snack, rather than chips."