NPC Report: Playing Politics With Children’s Health

NPC Report: Playing Politics With Children’s Health

WITH nearly one-third of today’s children and teens overweight or obese, most parents would support restricting school sales of foods high in sugar and fat — but what about placing restrictions on vegetables served in schools? While this idea may seem illogical, it is an approach that USDA is proposing to take at the end of this year when they release updated guidelines to the Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. 

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Specifically, schools would be required to limit total servings of “starchy” vegetables (e.g., potatoes, corn, lima beans, and green peas) offered in schools to 1 cup per week in lunches and eliminate those vegetables in breakfasts. While encouraging dietary variety is a noble idea, this proposed approach and restrictions are misguided — especially considering that less than 10% of kids are currently meeting recommended goals for daily vegetable servings. 

Even school foodservice professionals believe restrictions on vegetables offered in schools would be detrimental to the health of the students and school budgets. In fact, according to a survey we released on Oct. 5, only 5% of school foodservice directors believe the new rules will improve the quality of children’s overall health. A majority of foodservice professionals also said that replacing starchy vegetables with other more expensive vegetables will increase plate waste, increase costs, and decrease school lunch participation. 

Take, for example, the potato — one of the vegetables targeted by USDA in its proposed rules. At only 110 calories per serving, a baked potato is a fat-free, sodium-free, nutritional powerhouse contributing 22 nutrients to the diet, including potassium and fiber.  And, despite widespread belief that schools serve “French fries,” our survey of school foodservice directors revealed that only 11% of schools even have fryers in their kitchens.

Salad bars and potato bars have sprouted up in schools across the country as foodservice directors search for innovative ways to balance independent choice, nutrition, and taste. Students frequenting school foodservice baked potato bars top their potatoes with nutritious foods including a lean protein such as beans or chicken, other vegetables such as broccoli and tomatoes, low fat or reduced fat cheese, or vegetarian chili.

Encourage Consumption
USDA estimates the newly proposed meal plan will increase school lunch costs $6.8 billion over the course of five years. These costs would be incurred by the economically strapped local and state agencies that control school foodservice accounts.

Rather than suggesting the elimination of certain vegetables at a time when vegetable consumption among children is at an all-time low, why not encourage the consumption of vegetables that kids will eat, that offer significant nutrient value, are cost efficient, and serve as a vehicle for the introduction of new
vegetables to kids’ palettes? 

There is no science-based distinction that can be drawn between starchy vegetables and other vegetables. The nutritional profile of some starchy vegetables is almost the same as that of some fruits that are currently being encouraged, like bananas. Recommendations to limit the use of potatoes and other popular, nutritious vegetables, while likely well-intentioned, are misguided and will likely have serious unintended consequences.

Go to PotatoesInSchools.com to learn more about USDA’s ill-advised regulations and to write your members of Congress to oppose the proposed rules.