A School Lunch Potato Ban? No, not really.
Ban the potato from school lunch? To hear some people talk, you might think that was about to happen.
The potato is not being banned from school lunch, but it is one of the group of starchy vegetables being limited to one cup a week. Other starchy vegetables include corn, beans, and peas. The potato is being removed from school breakfasts.
When the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law in December, the idea was to get more nutrition into the schools. The USDA proposed guidelines that came out in January suggested ¾ cup of vegetables per day for grades K-8 and one cup of vegetables per day for grades 9-12.
On a weekly basis, there should be at least ½ cup each of dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, and legumes. No more than one cup of starchy vegetables should be served during the week.
Currently, many school lunchrooms serve potatoes, corn, and beans multiple times a week. Starchy vegetables tend to be the cheaper vegetables. Potatoes grow easily and in high concentrations. They also store easily. It’s an understandable temptation for cost-conscious administrators.
Potatoes are nutritious. There are other vegetables that are more nutritious, but most vegetables don’t contain every vitamin and mineral a body needs. One cup of potatoes (baked and plain) contains 138 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 24% of the daily value of vitamin C, and 23% of the daily value of potassium.
In comparison, one cup of cooked spinach contains 41 calories, 4 grams of fiber, 377% of the daily value of vitamin A, 29% of the daily value of vitamin C, 24% of the daily value of calcium, 36% of the daily value of iron, and 24% of the daily value of potassium. A cup of carrots served raw contains 30 calories, 2 grams of fiber, and 234% of the daily value of vitamin A.
A variety of vegetables served throughout the week will go a long way towards getting most of the nutrition kids need.
The most common complaint against potatoes is the method of preparation. The usual methods used in school lunch often leave a bit to be desired – either fried and served with salt and ketchup or mashed and served with butter and gravy. Reducing those preparation methods will reduce calories from fat as well as reducing sodium intake.
A baked potato bar is usually popular with kids. Even with the toppings that everyone piles on to them, the baked potato still can come out nutritious, considering that it’s a whole meal to itself. Suggestions from the adults in the lunchroom can be helpful when the kids are choosing toppings.
So What’s the Problem?
Industry groups don’t want to reduce the amount of potatoes they’re selling to the school lunch program. About twenty-five billion pounds of potatoes are sold in the U.S. each year. Nearly 300 million pounds of potatoes are sold to schools each year. In other words, just over 1% of the total number of potatoes sold in the U.S. each year is sold to schools.
It seems a bit backwards to say that potatoes are being punished. The intent behind the USDA’s proposed guidelines is to increase the variety of vegetables that kids are exposed to at a young age and at the same time increase the nutritional value of a week’s worth of school lunches.
Public comments closed on the USDA’s proposed guidelines on April 13, but industry groups are still lobbying congress. To get your voice heard on this, you’ll have to write your congressperson directly. Find your senators or representative and let them know how you feel about fewer potatoes served in school lunch.
Image by Laurel Fan, used with Creative Commons license.