Potatoes have long been a favorite vegetable for kids. So, why is USDA trying to limit the allowable amount served per week in school breakfast and lunch programs?
In January, USDA issued a proposed rule for Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The proposed rule limits total servings of starchy vegetables, including potatoes, corn, green peas, and lima beans, to one cup per week and eliminates them completely from breakfast.
When you think about the facts, the proposal really leaves you scratching your head. Potatoes are nutrient-rich and affordable, and kids actually eat them! What are the benefits of offering to kids vegetables with, in some cases, fewer nutrients that they won’t eat? A majority of school foodservice directors believe that reducing the weekly servings of potatoes would generate what they call “plate waste” since kids would be more likely not to take, or not to eat, the vegetables that would replace potatoes.
Baked Not Fried
In case you haven’t been to a school cafeteria lately, students today are eating potatoes that are baked or boiled, not fried. Processors and school foodservice operators have made considerable strides in offering potato products that are low in sodium, fat, and calories.
If that’s not enough, potatoes provide two of the four nutrients of concern for children — potassium and fiber. These are vital nutrients in children’s diets, and deficiencies could lead to serious long-term health consequences. One serving of potatoes delivers 13% of a child’s daily potassium needs alone.
The NPC supports the work USDA has done to improve school meals, and is committed to supporting healthy eating habits for our next generation. If the proposed guidelines are implemented, however, they could have serious unintended consequences that would reduce rather than advance vegetable consumption. That is why the NPC is working closely with school foodservice providers to urge USDA to consider the facts when it comes to potatoes.
We also need help in raising awareness locally with your school foodservice providers. Reach out to them and let them know that limiting potatoes in school lunches will have serious impacts on the flexibility they need to prepare meals that meet the nutritional goals and are consumed by the kids they service. The rule, if implemented, will drastically increase their costs for operating the program. USDA is estimating the implementation would increase costs for foodservice programs by $6.8 million over five years.
The focus really needs to be on the nutrients consumed by kids at school, not on what is offered to kids at school.