School Lunch Programs Need Potatoes

June 28, 2011

“Earlier this year, the USDA issued the proposed rule, “Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.”  This proposed rule would have forced schools to limit servings of potatoes, corn, green peas and lima beans. This drastic change to the school meal programs would have incurred significant costs to all school districts. Due to the radical changes and extreme costs that would have been associated with the proposed rule, it is likely that considerable number of schools would have chosen not to participate in the meal programs, especially school breakfast.  As a result, kids might have gone hungry.

“It is frustrating that the Administration would try to restrict one of the healthiest and economical vegetables from schools. Current school meal standards require that less than 30% of the calories be from fat, and less than 10% of the calories be from saturated fat. Potatoes are fat free, cholesterol free and low in calories. By eating one medium sized potato, children receive 45% of their recommended daily value of Vitamin C — a great antioxidant. Potatoes contain 18% of the recommended daily value of potassium — a great way to build stronger bones. The 3g of fiber in one medium-sized potato is 8% of the recommended daily value.  A medium potato contains over 200 milligrams more potassium than a banana and has as much fiber as a similar serving of broccoli.  Potatoes are part of a well-balanced diet, and despite rash claims that a recent study by Harvard University calls into question the health benefits of potatoes, the study itself concludes that the average adult gains only 1.28 pound over an entire span of four years when one extra serving of potatoes is added to their regular diet each day.  Serving potatoes, corn, and green peas to our children in school lunches is not causing the obesity epidemic in America. 

“In fact, Gooding Elementary School in Idaho was the first school in the nation to receive the “Healthier US School Challenge’s Gold Award of Distinction” for providing children healthier meals and promoting physical activity in November 2009.  Yet, the proposed USDA rule would have removed Gooding Elementary’s healthy “baked potato bar,” which uses locally grown potatoes served to students twice a week, even though the potato bar was considered by USDA as a basis for the award. Potatoes should not be withheld from children at the whim of those who are seemingly more interested in fad diets than child nutrition. 

“The U.S. House of Representatives approved Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill that contained a provision preventing the USDA from forcing schools to limit servings of these vegetables. This was a provision that I strongly supported, because I don’t believe that the goals of promoting a healthy lifestyle and making our school lunch program more cost efficient are at odds with each other.  At a time when our nation is facing serious financial difficulties, I am deeply concerned that this Administration is pushing for costly rules and regulations that have little, if any, impact on the goals we are striving to achieve.”