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Pingree questions USDA decision to limit potatoes in school meals

Says vegetable important part of school efforts for children to eat more nutritious and local foods

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Congresswoman Chellie Pingree today questioned the USDA's decision to limit potatoes in the meal standards it sets for schools. Pingree wrote to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking why potatoes and other starchy vegetables would be limited to one cup per student per week despite their health benefits.

"Nutritionally, potatoes are very similar to bananas. The question for me is why should Maine schools pay to truck in fruit from another country when we grow potatoes down the street?" said Pingree. "Maine schools are finding that matching students with local foods and farmers is very effective in getting them to eat more vegetables. It would be very disappointing if cutting potatoes from school meals hamper those efforts."

As part of new food standards, which schools must meet for federal reimbursement, the USDA has proposed limiting potatoes and other "starchy" vegetables to one cup per student per week—with none served at breakfast. Other vegetables on the list include peas and lima beans.

In the letter, Pingree asks what science supports the limiting of starches, how cutting potatoes from meals might affect the consumption of other vegetables, and if the agency's decision was based on potatoes themselves or on their preparation. Pingree also noted that the decision seems to conflict with a USDA report finding potatoes to be a "great" source of potassium and a "good" source of fiber.

"I certainly appreciate that the USDA is taking steps to help our kids eat healthier by increasing vegetables and whole grains. But potatoes can and should play a vital role in that effort," Pingree said. "Potatoes aren't just made into french fries. They're a versatile vegetable that schools prepare nutritionally and kids eat happily."

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