File this under R for Ridiculous.
Millions of kids every day receive free or reduced price lunch at school. The federal government foots the bill through the USDA. The program has been under attack in the last few years because of the low quality and nutrition sparse foods being served. What can you expect for about three dollars per meal?
To be fair, The USDA does have strict nutrition guidelines for food served in schools. However, the guidelines are shaped in many cases by food industry lobbies. Take, for example, chocolate milk. The dairy industry has convinced the USDA that a 1 cup serving of chocolate milk, with 3 teaspoons of added sugar, is the only way to convince kids to drink milk. And so, the USDA, despite knowing better, keeps American kids on a sugar high.
But back to the pizza story.
French fries and pizza have become a staple in many schools, sometimes being served daily. That’s because potatoes count as a vegetable serving, and the tomato paste in the pizza counts as a vegetable serving too.
Earlier this year, the USDA decided to revise some of its nutriton guidelines. More specifically, to double the amount of tomato paste that would count as a vegetable serving from 2 tablespoons to half a cup. This would basically disqualify pizza from being eligible for “veggie serving” status.
Well, the food service companies would have none of that, and they made some calls to their congressional representatives. (Don’t you wish that the rest of us could have Congress’s ear as well?). And earlier this week, the House of Representatives struck down the USDA’s initiative.
Now don’t get us wrong, tomato sauce can be a very healthy source of nutrition. In fact, certain anti-oxidants called lycopenes are more bioavailable in tomato paste than in fresh tomatoes. But the problem begins when the relatively small amount of paste is served as pizza with refined flour, mountains of cheese and no other vegetable.
USDA spokesperson Courtney Rowe, obviously agitated, said:
“While it’s unfortunate that some members of Congress continue to put special interests ahead of the health of America’s children, USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals.”
Too bad there’s nobody out there REALLY looking out for the kids who need nutritious foods the most.