The great potato debacle

In an effort to curb childhood obesity, the issue of French fries in schools was a hot topic recently in the mainstream media.

potatos-1141657_1280Advocates called for the banning or restriction of potatoes. Some even wanted to get rid of beans and other legumes. Meanwhile, potato growers gave generously to lawmakers, who prevented any legislation from going forward. Politicians were chastised for putting their own self-interests ahead of the welfare of our children. But in all this hoopla, some simple facts were overlooked. The problem is not the potatoes; rather, it’s the way they are processed, introducing unwanted additives and destroying the nutrients that occur naturally in them. Additionally, no matter how good a basic food is, it should not be consumed in excess and at the expense of other foods, especially vegetables.

It’s typical for crusaders to demonize a food, but real food is nearly always good food. The problem rests with the way it is processed — often tortured!

Criticizing school food can be hazardous to one’s career, which is why Sarah Wu, the Chicago teacher who ate her school’s lunch for a year (and lived to tell about it!), hid behind the alias of “Mrs. Q” in her blog. Now that Sarah’s book is out, she is, too, with the publication of her book, Fed Up With Lunch.

Another school food pioneer is a woman in Boston who will only identify herself as Alison (Ali), for fear of retaliation. She had worked in the restaurant industry before moving to her current job as a “school lunch lady.” Appalled by the thaw-and-serve food she encountered, she has been inspired by Jamie Oliver, Mrs. Q, and the other voices calling out for sanity in the cafeterias. Ali has gradually been upgrading the ingredients and quality in the food she serves and describes it in her blog Brave New Lunch.

The salad bar is being used as a baked potato bar ~

Healthy Potatoes

Ali knows that potatoes can be a healthy food when they are prepared intelligently. One of the options at her school is the baked potato bar. Not only is the humble spud filling and popular with all ages, there is a huge assortment of good food that can serve as a topping. Here are a few: cheese, broccoli, chili, sour cream/yogurt blend, real bacon pieces, and scallions. Potatoes lend themselves to countless toppings, including meats, fish, hard-cooked eggs and creamy cheese or white sauces to combine them with the fluffy potato.

More potato options

Portion of potato hash brown served with dry hay and sour-cream with dill on wooden board. Country style. Close up. Indoor shot

More Potato Options

At one time, mashed potatoes were a cafeteria staple, and today many upscale restaurants feature garlic mashed potatoes. More potato-based old fashioned comfort foods include scalloped potatoes and potatoes au gratin, which are both wonderful when cubed ham is added to them.Potato Salad with Chili Coriander and Allioli

For chilly days, nothing is more satisfying than a bowl of potato soup or a fish chowder with corn and chunks of potato. Bacon or ham can be added to these dishes. For soup, you can cook diced fresh potatoes, or use up the leftover mashed or baked potatoes from a previous meal. Cheese goes well with this type of soup.

Potatoes are not just good for the chilly days but can be used all year long. Who doesn’t love potato salad?

Fresh whipped or mashed potatoes with butter and parsley in yellow serving bowl

The not-so-healthy potato


Remember Jamie Oliver’s first encounter with the West Virginia school’s version of mashed potatoes? He learned about their “Whipped Potato Pearls” which simply needed to be reconstituted — no peeling required. The ingredients are potatoes, salt, partially hydrogenated canola oil, mono and diglycerides, artificial color, natural and artificial flavor, sodium bisulfite and BHT.

~ Real mashed potatoes = potatoes, milk, butter, salt. ~
How about some gravy to go on those “Pearls”? Here it is: Chicken stock, cooked mechanically separated chicken, wheat flour, modified food starch, chicken fat [generally preserved with BHA or BHT, but not labeled], water, dried dairy blend (whey, calcium caseinate), salt, cooked chicken meat, margarine (partially hydrogenated soybean oil, water, beta carotene for color), [margarine generally also contains artificial flavoring], contains less than 0.5% of the following ingredients: onion powder, monosodium glutamate, tomato paste, sodium phosphates, soy protein isolate [like MSG], chicken flavor (contains chicken stock, chicken powder, chicken fat [more preservatives]), flavoring [what’s that?] and citric acid.

Frozen Potato Institute

If you have kids who don’t want to eat fresh vegetables your picky eaters may have found an ally: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

chocolate covered cherries white background

After being pressured by the Frozen Potato Institute (representing most of the manufacturers of processed potato products), the USDA agreed that batter coated frozen French fried potatoes are a “fresh vegetable.” lt’s more than status the potato growers were seeking; thanks to an old law that dates back to the Depression era, they will receive financial protection if creditors default on the money they are owed.

Arguing unsuccessfully against what is being referred to as the Batter-Coating Rule, attorney Tim Elliott said that,┬ábased on the USDA ruling, “Chocolate covered cherries, packed in a candy box, would qualify as fresh fruit.”