There's a surprisingly sensitive and controversial subject at your child's school these days - school lunches. All KC metro schools face the same challenge, meeting the healthier school lunch requirements put in place by the federal government.
The rules require students get more fruits, vegetables and more whole grains, while limiting calories.
Among metro schools, Park Hill leads the way in what's known as farm-to-table, which involves getting as much of their food as possible directly from local farmers.
"We work with a lot of farmers in the local area," said Ronda McCullick, Park Hill's Food Services director. "We're in the middle of Missouri and lots of good produce."
Some of that produce comes from Mule Barn Berries in Lathrop, Mo.
"I think Park Hill has a culture that says we want to be involved in the process. Not just get it off of a truck and serve it to kids," said Renee Seba, owner of Mule Barn Berries.
On this particular day, Park Hill is serving a meatball with mushrooms.
Across town in KCK, a school there is serving whole grain macaroni and cheese. In Independence, meatloaf is on the menu. In Olathe, kids are eating French toast sticks, sausage and corn dogs.
Olathe Director of Food Services Scott Kingery says the lunch meets the federal requirements.
"It's always been a reduced fat sausage but the French toast sticks are a whole grain enriched product. Same for the corn dog," said Kingery.
It raises the question: Are the requirements healthy enough? University of Kansas Hospital pediatrician Anna Esparham, says probably not.
"We're not getting our major macronutrients at every single meal," said Esparham. "It's mostly carbohydrates and sugar that kids are getting."
She believes the school lunch requirements in some ways miss the mark by concentrating on increasing whole grains instead of reducing sugar.
"It's really not a whole grain and it turns straight to sugar in the body, so it still gets them addicted," said Esparham.
She believes sugar is a driving force behind an obesity epidemic. According to the nonprofit group Trust for America's Health, in Kansas nearly 13 percent of high school students are obese. In Missouri, it's closer to 15 percent.
"We see 60-pound 2-year-olds. We see morbid obesity in 10-, 11-year-olds," said Esparham.
At the nonprofit KC Healthy Kids, they're working with local schools to find healthier, farm-to-table options.
"Food that comes right out of the ground, whether it's from a local farm or the school garden and putting it on the plate, there's not a lot sugar added in those foods," said Racael McGinnis-Millsap, the Farm-to-School Academy director for KC Healthy Kids.
Right now, Independence, Shawnee-Mission, Lee's Summit, Hickman Mills and KCK are among the schools that serve at least some locally grown food.
"Our challenge with trying to go local is the volume," said Josh Mathiasmeier, KCK's director of Nutritional Services. "Finding a local vendor to go to a volume, a bulk product and the demand that we have is sometimes very challenging."
That's why some schools, including Blue Valley and Olathe, get almost all of their food from vendors who have also adapted to the healthier requirements.
"Last year was challenging," said Kingery of Olathe Schools. "A lot of the food companies were struggling to get the sodium and the whole grains where they needed to be."
Many schools say the healthy eating requirements go too far, with many kids simply throwing their fruits and vegetables in the trash. Look for that side of the story Wednesday on The Now KC and here on KSHB.com.
Kansas City Public Schools did not respond to multiple requests to take part in our story.
NEXT: 3 tasty recipes kids will love
Chocolate Avocado Pudding
To use as a meal smoothie for one person
1/2 frozen banana (tastes better frozen)
1 serving chocolate protein powder (20-30g of protein) or vanilla protein powder with 1 T unsweetened coco powder
½ can of canned coconut milk (cold pressed if possible)
Hand full of spinach or small amount of organic greens powder
Add water/fluid to pudding consistency
1. Mix in blender/processor until creamy
Almond Flour Pizza
2 cups almond flour
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1-2 Tablespoons dried Italian Herbs
Sautéed Mushrooms, Peppers and Onions
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sliced organic mushrooms (I love baby bellas)
1 medium bell pepper, chopped or diced (I love yellow, orange or red)
1 small onion, diced
Salt and Italian Herbs, to taste
Herbed chicken sausage (uncooked kind that crumbles, I’ve found a great one from Trader Joe’s)
Lemon Parsley Pesto (see additional recipe)
Pizza Sauce (Review the ingredient label and ensure no added sugar and no artificial sweeteners)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place ingredients in a medium to large bowl, and mix thoroughly with fork.
3. Wet hands and press onto parchment paper on cookie sheet (to make cleanup easy). Leave crust somewhat thick (about ¼ inch thick). Press into desired shape.
4. Before adding toppings, bake crust until golden for 10-12 min at 400°F.
Sautéed Mushrooms, Peppers and Onions
5. In a medium skillet on medium-high heat, add olive oil, vegetables, herbs and salt and sauté until soft.
Herbed Chicken Sausage
6. Remove sausage from casing by squeezing into a bowl or into empty skillet. In empty skillet over medium heat, cook sausage until thoroughly cooked and crumbled.
To Assemble Pizzas:
7. After crust has been baked until lightly golden brown, remove crust from oven.
8. Top crust, as desired with pizza sauce or pesto and desired veggies and/or chicken sausage toppings.
2 pounds ground turkey, buffalo, chicken or beef (or any combination of these)
¼ - 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, chives, rosemary, thyme, other)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 - 1 cup crushed gluten-free cereal (Rice or Corn Chex, Corn Flakes) or gluten-free breadcrumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
*Sweet potato and apple compote recipe
*Flax focaccia bread or store-bought gluten-free buns or cooked wild/brown rice (to serve with burger)
Other favorite burger toppings
1. Prepare the grill or turn on the oven broiler
2. In a mixing bowl, place meat, herbs, lemon juice, crushed cereal or gluten-free breadcrumbs, egg, salt, and
3. Mix until well-combined.
4. Divide into 8 equal portions and shape into patties.
5. Place on a heated grill or on broiler pan and place in the oven (about 2-3 inches from heat).
6. Cook burgers 8-10 minutes, until well-browned (not blackened). Turn burgers 2-3 times for even cooking.
7. Serve burger open-faced on flax focaccia bread or other gluten-free bun. You may also serve it without a bun
and with a side of steamed greens, a salad and/or ¼ - ½ cup of cooked wild rice, quinoa or other whole grain.
*These are separate recipes, prepared in a cooking demonstration at KU Integrative Medicine’s Healing Foods Kitchen
Justin Wilfon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .