I served the fam stuffed baked potatoes for dinner last night and I didn’t know I was stepping into a hot-button issue until I read the paper. An article in the Wall Street Journal (“Spuds, on the Verge of Being Expelled, Start a Food Fight in the Cafeteria”) highlights a provision in a proposed USDA regulation which would limit the amount of starchy vegetables (i.e., white potatoes, corn, lima beans, and peas) served as part of the National School Lunch Program to 1 cup per week. The rule is based on Institute of Medicine recommendations noting that kids eat too much starch and not enough other vegetables. The USDA’s intention is to “encourage students to try new vegetables in place of the familiar starchy ones.” (See here for the complete language.)
Perhaps because they have a louder lobby than, say, the lima bean folks, potatoes have been the starchy vegetable to make the headlines about this proposed rule. So, let’s talk for a moment about the potato.
A medium potato grows in the ground, not in a factory. It contains about 160 calories, mostly from carbs. It also provides about 4 grams fiber, 10% of your iron for the day, 28% of your vitamin C, 27% of your B6, 26% of your potassium, good amounts of magnesium and phosphorus, and even a few grams of protein.
Yeah, this sounds like a terrible food. Better serve the kiddos pizza boats instead.
I’ll spare you ALL of my thoughts on this issue, and let’s put aside for a moment the fact that it’s probably the case that too many potatoes served in schools are in the form of French fries. My problem with this rule is that placing limits on an entire food group feels like “ nutritionism” – the focus on specific nutrients and dietary components of a food to decide whether or not it’s “good” for you or to decide whether or not it fits into a healthy diet. This kind of rule-making leads to the absurd reality that schools can serve processed foods as long as they are specially formulated to meet all of the NSLP requirements. Why would we want make a rule that will in effect limit the consumption of a whole healthy food?
(Perhaps it’s odd for an RD to express anti-nutritionism leanings, but I’m definitely concerned with the way food manufacturers and marketers and uninformed consumers can use this kind of perspective to build a diet full of processed foods. Attention to nutrients certainly has its place, especially in Medical Nutrition Therapy for certain medical conditions, but for me personally, when selecting manufactured foods I tend to read the ingredients list but not the Nutrition Facts. But I digress.)
And finally, does anyone honestly believe that by eliminating potatoes and corn it will force kids to try other vegetables? (“Well, there’s no mashed potatoes today so I guess I’ll eat this over-boiled asparagus instead!”) I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it.
So about last night: I served stuffed baked potatoes and they were enjoyed by all.
Mushroom, Spinach & Feta Stuffed Potatoes (adapted from Rachael Ray) - Serves 4 (2 adults, 2 kids)
- Olive oil
- 4 baking potatoes (I pick out larger ones for me and the husband, smaller ones for the kids. And I prefer organic.)
- 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- 2 bunches spinach, stems trimmed and leaves chopped.
- 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- S/P to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400°. Bake the potatoes until cooked through, about 50 minutes.
- In a large skillet, heat about a tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Add a little more olive oil to the skillet; add the spinach and cook until wilted. Add the spinach to the mushrooms; add the feta and stir until mostly melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Cut a deep “X” into the top of each potato and squeeze together to open. Generously stuff each with the spinach mixture.