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French Fries and Ketchup Are Vegetables

School NutritionFrench fries and ketchup are vegetables? Maybe, if the food lobby gets its way.

Way back in January of this year, the USDA proposed new nutrition standards in the national school lunch and school breakfast programs. One of the standards requires ΒΎ cup of vegetables per day for grades K-8 and 1 cup of vegetables per day for grades 9-12, with no more than 1 cup of starchy vegetables per week.

Starchy vegetables include peas, legumes, and potatoes.

The food industry immediately began a campaign to defend the potato from what they saw as an attack. They worried that potatoes would soon be banned from schools.

So far, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is holding the line on the reduction of potatoes in schools. Ketchup is not a vegetable right now and french fries are still limited to one cup per week. The Fearless Campaign has a form set up to make sending a thank you note to Tom Vilsack simple and quick.

I think it’s a good idea to send a thank you note, phone call, or email whenever a public official – elected or appointed – does something you agree with on an issue that matters to you, whether it’s school nutrition, GMO labeling, or something else entirely.

Polite notes of disagreement are important, too. It may not change an official’s vote on something, but they’ll know where the public stands on the issues they vote on.

Image by Gudlyf, used with Creative Commons license.

2 comments
  1. Mark

    It is interesting that in a post about school nutrition, you never mention nutrition.

    Potato growers and school food service professionals alike are concerned that USDA’s proposed federal regulations would actually lead to decreased nutrient intake of key nutrients by students. According to USDA’s own 2010 Dietary Guidelines, inadequate potassium intake can result in long-term health consequences. Since the vast majority of students are not currently meeting their potassium requirements, new regulations should be advocating for increased potassium consumption, not the virtual elimination of potassium-rich foods, like potatoes, as USDA is proposing.

    Potatoes (yes, even in the form of French fries!) provide a cost-efficient delivery of key nutrients to students. One serving of oven-baked French fries provides more potassium than a banana and as much fiber as spinach, all while costing less than 5 cents. And since approximately 80% of all school cafeterias are now preparing potatoes by baking, mashing and broiling instead of frying, students are consuming less sodium, fat and calories than previously.

    Schools food service professionals are already aggressively improving their menus, which is why the majority actually oppose USDA’s one-size-fits-all approach to school meals. They are working to increase fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich beans, and whole grains in their lunches. This healthier menu includes potatoes, adding the calories children require without adding significant amounts of fat calories.

    USDA admits that overhauling already healthy school meal plans will increase school lunch costs by $6.8 billion over five years. The last thing we need is additional regulations forcing schools to serve kids more expensive vegetables they don’t want to eat while limiting proven, healthy options.

    1. Heather Carr

      Potatoes do have some nutrition in them and I covered that in one of the posts I linked to in this post. This post was more about thanking Tom Vilsack for not caving on the school nutrition guidelines.

      Servings of potatoes are allowed under the new guidelines, but less often than in the old guidelines. There won’t be a ban of any sort.

      Potassium is certainly necessary, but other vegetables and fruits have potassium, too. The USDA has a list of food sources of potassium which is by no means exhaustive, but which has a wide variety of foods that kids love. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/appendixb.htm

      As for the economics of school lunch, as you note, a lot of school districts already serve foods that meet the new standards. They won’t have to change anything.

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