Let kids belly up to the spud bar

04/15/2011 08:51:20 AM
Fred Wilkinson

The United Fresh Produce Association Foundation was deservedly proud in its recent announcement of plans to donate salad bars to 33 New Orleans schools during the group’s upcoming convention in New Orleans May 2-5.

Fred Wilkinson
Foodservice Focus

A strong advocate for grooming future produce sales — and healthier Americans — United Fresh has a goal of providing salad bars to schools nationwide in the next three years.

As of mid-April, United Fresh’s efforts had resulted in salad bars donated to 85 schools in 12 states and Washington, D.C.

That’s great news for schoolchildren’s health and marketers of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Well, not all of them, unfortunately.

One of America’s top-selling vegetables is not welcome at the party.

Fresh potatoes have been getting a thumb in the eye for too long with an undeserved reputation as being a dietary dud.

U.S. Department of Agriculture school nutrition guidelines call for an increased presence of dark green and orange vegetables but specify limiting starchy vegetables, namely potatoes.

The reasoning cited for excluding potatoes is that their seat at the school lunch menu table is taken up by processed product — french fries and tater tots, mostly.

Understandably, potato promotion groups have questioned this reasoning.

Industry reaction

John Keeling, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council, has called restrictions on potatoes misguided.

So far, lobbying by Keeling’s group and others has failed to sway federal feeding czars.
It goes beyond a snub in the lunchroom.

The Women, Infants and Children low-income feeding program has included produce in recent years (after much industry effort) but excludes potatoes.

The produce industry’s success in gaining fresh fruits and vegetables a role in low-income and school nutrition programs has been a huge win for the trade.

It’s past time fresh potatoes got to play a part too.

Following the success of school salad bars, why not push for baked potato bars in schools?

A medium potato has only 110 calories and provides close to half of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.

Plus, there would be plenty of room at the bar for other vegetable toppings to dress up those baked spuds — chopped onions, sliced mushrooms, fresh peas, celery slices, carrot shreds, tomato chunks, avocado slices, broccoli/cauliflower florets and sweet bell pepper slices.

Concern about overindulgence in potato products by kids is understandable, but wouldn’t it make more sense to take it out on the tater tots?

E-mail fwilkinson@thepacker.com

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