The state's potato industry, now fighting proposed regulations to limit starchy vegetables in school lunches, is hoping to put hot vegetable bars in 10 Washington schools.
The bars, modeled after salad bars, would feature an array of vegetables and legumes that students could use to top their potatoes. In addition to beans and broccoli, "they could have cheese or sour cream," says Karen Bonaudi, assistant executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, which has partnered with the dairy industry and the state's Access to Healthy Foods Coalition to seek project funding.
Positioning potatoes as a companion to other vegetables is a central tenet of the potato industry's lobbying strategy. The Wall Street Journal this month reported tuber producers are promoting their crop as a "gateway vegetable" that could lead kids to try dark, leafy greens, while the commission's executive director is quick to cite a study showing schoolchildren eat more vegetables overall when white potatoes are offered.
The commission has applied for a $250,000 grant from the USDA to put its proposal in place. In addition to purchasing hardware, the money will be used to develop how-to guides for other schools interested in installing vegetable bars and to produce explanatory materials for families.
"It's not just saying 'Here's a steam table,'" Bonaudi says.
The commission will learn next month whether the Washington State Department of Agriculture will forward its application to the USDA. Funding decisions will be announced in October.
Bonaudi says there's so much support for the plan within the industry that the project will likely proceed even without a USDA grant.
"It's interactive," Bonaudi says of the bar's appeal. "Students can go up and make their own choices."