Pizza As A Vegetable? I Don’t Think So.

School lunch policies require that a certain amount of vegetables be served, and according to Congress, two tablespoons of tomato paste counts as a vegetable. With this rule, cafeterias are allowed to consider pizza as a vegetable. And because French fries come from a potato, they can be considered vegetables too.

Recent proposals by the Obama administration and the United States Department of Agriculture would have made these regulations come to an end. In addition, the bill would have limited starchy vegetables, boosted whole grain foods, increased the amount of fruits and vegetables served, and restricted high sodium levels put on the lunch plates of American children 5 days a week. As considered by this dietitian-in-training, all proposals were wonderful benefits. However, this week, Congress hindered these proposals.

Yes, serving different foods may cost more. And yes, I know our education system is already in a penny-pinching position. But more penny-pinching or continued pants-pinching, people? It is so unfortunate that Congress put the interests of lobbyists in the frozen food and potato industry in front of the interests of the health of American school children.

This is not about politics, this is about health. The starchy vegetables, like potatoes, corn, and peas offer a wide variety of amazing nutrients. But when potatoes lathered in oil or when two tablespoons of tomato paste can be defined as vegetables, we have serious problems. And Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest agrees. “We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace,” she said.

School lunches are a primary source of kids’ energy and nutrients throughout the day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past thirty years and one-third of children/adolescents are considered overweight or obese. These facts combined with the workings of the government this week frustrate me more than you know. American children cannot continue to be served meals like this.

It is ironic that news about school lunches surfaced just days after I went back to my local elementary school as my brother’s “substitute parent” for Fourth Grade Parent Day while our mom and dad rendezvoused in Hawaii.

Surprisingly, the students and parents were given three options to choose from. We were given choice 1, a chicken patty sandwich on a white bun, mandarin oranges, mashed potatoes and gravy, and milk; choice 2: a white-bread peanut-butter and jelly sandwich instead of the chicken patty; or choice 3: a salad (with egg, ham, cheese, and tomato), milk, and apple juice.

Not surprising, so many easy changes could have been made to improve the nutritional quality of the meals. How much harder is it to have grilled chicken, rather than chicken with breading? Why can’t the white bread be swapped out for whole wheat bread? Apple juice and milk to go along with the salad? It could have been just as simple to allow the student
parent me to pick up an apple instead of the juice carton. It’s not like schools need to serve salmon filets with a side of couscous. They need to make simple changes.

The poor decisions by Congress both infuriate me and break my heart. Our Congress believes that we cannot afford to provide quality meals, but can we afford to let the health of the nation’s children suffer?

I certainly do not think so. What about you?

(Photo: Blake at Parent Day enjoying a salad with milk! Definitely the brother of an rd2beJ)

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