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The Checkup
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Posted at 07:02 AM ET, 11/17/2011

Sorting out the school lunch menu

The news that Congress has taken legislative action that would allow schools participating in the federal school meal program to continue serving potatoes and tomato sauce as vegetables has raised all kinds of questions about the government’s role in dictating what kids eat and whether members of Congress are equipped to set nutrition policy.

The issue has sent plenty of wisecracking, second-guessing, cynicism and silliness swirling around the blogs and on Twitter.

In okaying potatoes and tomato sauce, Congress apparently bent to food-industry interests. But in the process, nobody “invented” a new vegetable, as some wags have suggested. And while it’s entirely likely that the bulk of those potatoes will be served as french fries and much of the tomato sauce will be part of pizzas, it is also possible that potatoes will be baked and topped with other vegetables and tomato sauce will be spooned over pasta. I’ve interviewed people who are working to improve school lunches, and these are the kinds of things they try to make happen.

For the record: a medium baked potato contains just over 160 calories and supplies 4 grams of fiber, 28 percent of our daily Vitamin C, 926 mg of potassium, some folate, iron, Vitamin B6, manganese and a smattering of other vitamins and minerals. Half a cup of tomato sauce contains about 30 calories, about 15 percent of our daily requirement of Vitamin C and 10 percent of our Vitamin A, 2 grams of fiber and nice amounts of Vitamin E niacin, iron, potassium, copper and manganese. On the downside, tomato sauce is high in sodium (about 640 mg per half cup) and sugars (5 grams), though some of those are naturally occurring in the tomatoes.

Maybe would could stop fussing over these foods themselves and try focusing on how they’re used. Your local school system has some say in that, which means parents and taxpayers can have some say, too. Many schools welcome parent input about school meals. Make your voice heard where it counts.

By  |  07:02 AM ET, 11/17/2011

 
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