The American Frozen Food Institute, affiliated with the National Frozen Pizza Institute, called the compromise a “balanced approach” that “recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste and ensures students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta.”
While the push to protect tomato paste came from House Republicans, people familiar with the negotiations said, some senators also opposed ending its favored status. Some lawmakers argued that school nutritionists, not federal bureaucrats, should make food decisions.
“Tomato paste is nutritionally dense, but the Department of Agriculture said it must meet the same volume as a fresh tomato,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said in a floor speech earlier this month. That doesn’t make much sense.”
The National Potato Council, which worked with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to strip out the limits on starchy vegetables, also hailed the compromise. Collins said the limits that the USDA wants to impose on starchy vegetables — including white potatoes, corn, peas and lima beans — were arbitrary.
The problem lies not with potatoes, which are full of healthful nutrients, but rather the way they are prepared, Collins said. In a recent Senate speech, she said baked potatoes are often “a vehicle” for other vegetables. Yet students would not be allowed to eat a baked potato one day and an ear of fresh corn later that week, an “absurd result,” she said.
Collins also raised the cost issue, which was cited by Democrats as well. Some schools could be forced to drop their school breakfast programs because the USDA’s proposal would increase costs by 50 cents, she said. The proposal would ban starchy vegetables from federally funded breakfasts, too.
The USDA rejects the cost argument as it applies to starchy vegetables.
It says the most recent federal data show that most elementary schools already serve portions of starchy vegetables that are near or below the proposed one-cup-per-week limit. High schools, on average, exceed the recommended limit, but these schools account for only 20 percent of the students who get federally funded meals, the USDA said.