Limiting Potatoes in School Lunches Not a Smart Idea

If you heard that schools were limiting their potato offerings, you’d probably be in support. After all, when you think of potatoes in a school lunch you probably imagine French fries and tater tots, yes? In fact, when children are given a choice, 75% of the time they choose the starchy vegetable – i.e. French fried potatoes over any other vegetable. New proposed federal standards would like to trim the number of times per week that potatoes can be offered on a school menu to just two, but this may not be such a smart idea.

The USDA has proposed increasing the amount of fruit, leafy vegetables and whole grains served to school children every day while limiting corn, lima beans, peas and potatoes, but not sweet potatoes.

Not so fast, says Colorado Senator Mark Udall. Not only would reducing the servings of potatoes negatively affect potato farmers, but potatoes are actually a very nutritious vegetable. One medium-size potato, skin on, contains 110 calories per serving, with more potassium (620 grams) than a banana, and almost half the daily value of vitamin C (45 percent). In addition, a potato is high in fiber, and potatoes don’t contain fat, sodium or cholesterol. It’s only when potatoes are fried, coated in butter or served with sour cream that they become a nutritional nightmare.

The new policy, which has yet to be put into law, doesn’t expressly prohibit potatoes, but it aims to increase the servings of other vegetables and fruits, which would then squeeze out potatoes. With obesity rates soaring, especially in the school age range, it has become clear that changes need to be made in what we are serving our children. But if potatoes are actually not the demon that they are frequently portrayed to be, how can we reduce the amount of fried, starchy foods, and is there a workable compromise?

Oven fries spring to mind immediately. Crispy, crunchy wedges of potato, sprinkled with a little olive oil, sea salt and spices. If you want something with a bit more “junk food” appeal, top those wedges with Parmesan cheese for delicious Cheesy Oven Fries. Another fantastic opportunity would be a baked potato bar. Offer students a baked potato and allow them to top it with veggies, low fat cheeses or turkey bacon crumbles.

Do you think that potatoes should remain on the school lunch menus? If so, how would you serve them?


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