By MATTHEW WEAVER
The Washington potato industry hopes to increase vegetable consumption in schools by putting vegetable bars alongside salad bars in cafeterias.
Washington's Access to Healthy Foods Coalition has submitted a proposal for a pilot program as part of the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
Chris Voigt, Washington State Potato Commission executive director, said the vegetable bar would complement salad bars. The commission is part of the coalition and hopes to work with 20 schools on the pilot program.
Students would put low-fat or no-fat sour cream, onions, chives, broccoli, salsa and other vegetables or toppings on baked potatoes.
"We're hoping this will also show USDA that potatoes are a great fit into the school lunch program." Voigt said. USDA has proposed limiting potatoes to one cup per week on school lunch menus.
Voigt referred to a University of Washington study that showed students who are offered potatoes at lunch consume more vegetables overall than when potatoes are not served.
"Hopefully it will be a message to the USDA that it's wrong to limit potatoes," Voigt said. "A baked potato is such a healthy way of eating a potato, because you're still retaining all the vitamins and minerals."
Voigt said the commission has compiled material for schools to help them set up potato bars, but has not tracked consumption and use patterns. He hopes to expand the program using data from the pilot project.
Lisa Johnson, president of the Washington School Nutrition Association, was not familiar with the coalition's proposal. She said it would take planning for a hot cart to be safe and meet regulations, especially among younger students.
"Anything that is going to promote students taking and accepting more fruits and vegetables is a good thing," Johnson said.
Regarding the USDA's pending proposal to limit starchy vegetables, Johnson said she is in favor of encouraging variety, but doesn't see the need to limit potatoes.
"In Washington and Idaho, that is a huge agricultural crop we need to support," she said.
Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse will make a decision on the grant in July and pass it along to USDA for further consideration, Voigt said.