Save the spuds! Senators Fight to Keep Potatoes in School Lunches

A group of senators from potatoe-producing states are working to help reverse the “bad rap” that potatoes have received in recent years and to save the school lunch program from banning or severely limiting spuds in the national school lunch program.

Sens. Susan  Collins, R-Maine, and Mark Udall, D-Colo.,  have proposed an amendment to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill that would protect schools’ flexibility in serving healthy fruits and vegetables in the school breakfast and lunch programs.

New guidelines released in January from the U.S. Department of Agriculture  would reduce the use of potatoes, including white potatoes, in school lunches, to a total of one cup per week. The rule would also ban starchy vegetables from the School Breakfast Program completely, starting next year.

The senators amendment would prevent the USDA from moving forward by limiting the options of local school districts, what Collins calls an “arbitrary limitation” on spuds. Collins says that this would amount to discrimination against a vegetable with more potassium than a banana, which is cholesterol free, low and fat and sodium and “can be served in countless healthy ways.”

The senators argue against the significant costs that school districts would  incur if they couldn’t use potatoes, which are cheap when compared to other vegetables, in school meals.

“I’ve heard from school lunch providers in Colorado that this restriction would result in significant challenges for food service operations through increased costs, reduced flexibility and decreased school meal participation, ” Udall.  ”In some areas increased flexibility to serve this nutritious and available vegetable can actually help schools manage cost so they can help afford to purchase other more expensive vegetables.

Collins’ office says she is working with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack  to encourage schools to find better ways to prepare the potato, rather than ban or severely limit it.

“USDA should not limit their availability but instead should encourage their healthy preparation,” Collins said.

The amendment could be up for a vote as early as this week.