If some folks had their way, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed rules about school meals might be better off without the part that limits the amount of potatoes schoolchildren can be served.
During a press briefing last week, the National Potato Council made its case for why potatoes should have more of a showing on school lunch trays than the USDA is proposing. The agency’s proposal would limit potatoes, corn, green peas, and lima beans to one cup a week.
The change to school meals is one of many proposed following the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in late 2010. The meal proposal reflects recommendations from the Institutes of Medicine. Others include serving more green and orange vegetables, cutting the fat in milk, serving more whole grains, and making meals with less sodium. The USDA is expected to finalize the rules later this year or early next, and school cafeterias would have to put them into practice during the 2012-13 school year.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the sponsors of the briefing, said the way the rules are now written, if baked potatoes were served on Monday, corn on the cob couldn’t be served Thursday. Fish chowder or beef stew made with potatoes would be out, too.
Ms. Collins, who voted for the law that gave the USDA the power to rewrite school meal rules, sponsored the discussion with other lawmakers from potato-growing states, including Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine; Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.; Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; and Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio. But not all lawmakers from potato-growing states are united on the issue. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., has asked people to thank Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for the proposed nutrition standards, in particular the limits on potatoes.
Sen. Collins pledged to try to force the USDA’s hand when the agriculture spending bill comes up for discussion on the Senate floor.
“The bottom line is, the departments rule simply goes too far,” Ms. Collins said. “It would unfairly hurt a vegetable that is easily accessible and popular.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2011 edition of Education Week as Spuds Lobby Irked at USDA Meal Rules