My Take on the Potato Wars

Should potatoes be classified as vegetables?

One of the proposed changes to the National School Lunch Program is to limit the amount of “starchy” vegetables like corn and potatoes to no more than two servings a week.  Turns out that potatoes (mostly in the form of French fries) constitute 75% of the vegetables eaten in our school cafeterias.   The idea is that cutting back on potatoes might compel kids to consume other vegetables.  French fried carrots, presumably. 

This proposal has unleashed a backlash from the potato industry and dietitians who lobby for them, who complain that potatoes are being unfairly maligned.  They point out that potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.  They’re also cheap and relatively shelf-stable (which is why the food industry loves them) and they’re one of the few vegetables that kids will reliably eat–probably because we deep fry them and slather them with ketchup.

The real question is:  Why do we classify potatoes as vegetables?

Obviously, the food groups do not hew to botanical classifications.  Tomatoes are lumped with the vegetables and not the fruits,  for example.   Nutritionally speaking, it makes much more sense to put potatoes and corn into the same food group as rice, bread, and pasta than it does to put them in with the vegetables.  In terms of calorie density and the amount and quality of carbohydrates they contain, potatoes are far more similar to grains than they are to carrots, spinach, or broccoli.

Here’s an idea that should satisfy both the public health agencies and the potato lobby: Instead of stigmatizing potatoes as a “bad” vegetable, why not position them as a “good” starch?

8 thoughts on “My Take on the Potato Wars

  1. “Good starch.” Not a bad idea. But what do you propose regarding frequency? Should starches at lunch be an everyday thing? I personally see no problem in serving plain baked potatoes every day (or even baked potato fries). Just limit students to one starch selection. So it could be a potato, whole grain product, corn, beans, lentils, etc.

  2. Personally, I don’t consider French fries as “vegetables”.
    But potatoes are a great low-calorie side-dish:

    French Fries: 308kcal/100g
    Rice: 206kcal/100g
    Potatoes (baked or boiled) 90kcal/100g

  3. My thoughts EXACTLY! My nutrition qualification is through a holistic college and we DO consider potatoes and corn to be a starch… I also consider winter squash to be a starch (albiet a SUPER healthy one!). I also like to divide veg into salad veg, leafy greens etc…. to ensure people get some variety in their veg as well! Eating lots of tomatoes and cucumber is great, but its really important for people to get some leafy greens and cruciferous in there as well. Or it is in my opinion anyhow!

  4. I work in the UK for a catering company and our policy is that potatoes should be available at every lunch time – BUT – our chefs are only allowed to do 2 deep fried items each week (which roughly equates to fish and chips on a friday). They have to use healthy cooking methods like steaming, boiling, grilling, baking, mashing etc, the rest of the week. Every child is encouraged to have 1 portion of protein, one of starch (whether that’s rice, pasta or potato) and 2 portions of vegetables. I think we’re getting it right!

  5. What upsets me with this article is stating that schools deep fry the potatoes. I work in our District’s cafeteria and know for a fact we can’t deep fry anything. We don’t even have a fryer in our kitchens. All potato products are baked. Much better than the fries the parents run out to buy at the fast food restaurants.

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