Open thread: Pizza = veggie?

Over the past couple weeks, Congress scaled back the new USDA guidelines for school lunch. First it was potatoes winning their right to stay on the daily menu and now the tomato sauce/paste on pizza will continue to qualify as a veggie. One Twitter friend suggested finding out all of the people who voted on the bill and tweeting them our complaints every day. Well, it looks like Congress found a way to do it off-record: We couldn’t find a record of Congress people’s “Yea/Nay” votes. Those dirty dogs.

I have to confess: I had pizza for dinner tonight. Gluten free and cow dairy free (it is not pictured above). It was a taste explosion. I will not pretend that tonight’s pizza wasn’t a calorie orgy. I don’t eat pizza often, but when I do I make sure that it’s something to remember.

Many of the people who read my blog are accomplished home cooks. Although I don’t put myself in that company, I have been teaching myself how to cook and steadily improving my skills. I know that you guys can make pizzas loaded with veggies. But are school pizzas loaded with veggies?? No. What I found last year was that many school pizzas have 62 ingredients. So they are loaded with lots of things….things we can’t pronounce and things that are doing who-knows-what to people’s insides.

One lunch lady had this to say on YouTube about pizza as a veggie. What she says in 20 seconds is powerful: it’s the truth.

What are your thoughts?

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21 thoughts on “Open thread: Pizza = veggie?

  1. I hate how Obama was supposed to make the change and then the lobbyists got involved and congress made pizza sauce a vegetable. It’s not even close to a vegetable with Congress’s . It might have a little but of actual tomato all at is is high fructose corn syrup . It’s disgusting another step back on the war on healthy lunches.

  2. Just to be clear, tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable. 🙂 That being said, Congress needs to stop being stupid and think for themselves. Right now they are so in the pockets of big Ag that they can’t see a thing. It makes me horribly sad for the future of this country.

  3. It’s amazing that this jurisdiction comes during an administration where the First Lady’s campaign is to start healthy eating and stop child obesity.

  4. I do not believe from you photos of the school lunches offered in Chicago that the district there is following ANY USDA guidelines. I have been watching very closely what my twin girls school lunch program offers. Due to certain circumstances we have qualified for reduced price lunches and it is more economical for my girls to each lunch at school. When that happened it was a financial blessing to us, however I was concerned about what was to be offered. Yes, are there chicken nuggets and pizza offered, but nothing is fried, its all baked. And if its a burger then there is no beef, but rather turkey burgers on whole wheat buns. Hot dogs are turkey dogs. Pizza is whole wheat pizza crust and low fat cheese. One of my girls favorite meals is Chicken Parmesan (again – baked). Each school has a salad bar for lunch and cut fruit is available for breakfast as well. When they can, the district will have interns or volunteers stationed at the salad bar encouraging and educating kids to make smart choices. My girls are regulars at the salad bar.

    I believe, however, that these things start at home. If you are making and eating salads at home, and you are making and eating fresh veggies and fruits for your snacks and meals then you will pass that on to your children, and they will crave these items. We talk about it a lot too! Not only do we talk about food and how food affects our bodies, but where food comes from and making good choices about what and where we buy it. We even have a small raised garden bed that we use each year. I am proud to say that we went to a friends birthday party and my girls both refused the pizza and cake, noting that they would rather go home and have their mom cook them dinner. Go figure! Does that happen every time, well no, but I do believe that more often then not they are more aware of what they are eating and the choices they make. It is appalling that the schools are able to offer those strange prepackaged foods that I saw in your photos, and I seriously hope that you didn’t eat all of those meals!

  5. I agree with Kim… and everyone else.

    It really is too bad there isn’t identifying info on the yayers. If you ever get the info – please share it with us. But maybe its still something we can change with a little pen work. In the meantime, my kid will not he eating school lunch =\

  6. It’s official- my kindergartener is smarter than Congress! My son learned about the food groups in school last week, and I quizzed him on which group pizza belonged in. He said that the crust is in the grains group, the cheese is in the dairy group, and that there aren’t enough veggies to make a veggie group serving because a serving is the size of his fist. Maybe I should throw his name in the hat for the next election…

  7. Do you think there are situations where tomato ingredients could qualify to fulfill part of the vegetable requirement in school meals? Chili? Sloppy joes? If so, why not when included in pizza? Is it because of the quality of the tomato product included in pizza?

    Is the objection more about congress getting involved to make changes to the IOM recommendations? Or an overall concern with pizza in school meals?

    1. I don’t think that any of the foods you mention could qualify as a serving of vegetables. Possibly homemade version of those could qualify, but the school versions definitely do not. It’s about quantity, not quality. And, like many people have already pointed out, the quantity is not present in school lunches.

      1. Oh, OK, I think what you might be saying is that you are objecting to congress keeping the “multiplier” factor for tomato paste (it’s been around for awhile) – meaning that 1 tablespoon of tomato paste “counts” as 1/4 cup of vegetable (instead of keeping the IOM guideline which proposed to change to counting tomato paste as it’s actual volume).

        There’s been so much written and said because of the creative headlines that it has been confusing sometimes to understand and discuss the actual concerns and what to do.

        Anyway, so, with that multiplier, if a food item has 1 tablespoon of tomato paste in a serving of the food item, it could count as 1/4 cup of fruit/vegetable. If it has 1/2 tablespoon, it would count as 1/8 cup. (This is all under the food based menu planning system). The school would still need to offer additional fruits/vegetables (amount varies based on age/grade) to meet the current regulations.

        I really don’t know why there’s a multiplier for tomato paste – my guess would be because it takes quite a few tomatoes to make paste…more nutrient “dense”?

  8. Ridiculous. That’s all I can say. How can the tiny bit of tomato sauce qualify as a veggie? You’d need at least 1/2 cup to qualify by dietary standards. Tomato isn’t even a true veggie, its a fruit! DUH! Even if the pizza is supplemented with extra veggies as toppings (mushrooms, basil, bell pepper, onions), what child really likes to eat peppers and onions? So am I to assume it begins with pizza as a veggie and moves on to other foods like spaghetti? Clearly there’s more carbs and FAT then veggie in pizza.

  9. My son went to a daycare for awhile that followed the USDA bare minimum guidelines to a tee–tator tots and french fries as veggies, canned veggies, canned fruit, sickeningly sweet juice–because that’s what they would get reimbursed for. We’ve since switched to a center that does a much better job. They serve fresh, healthy prepared foods, but also do not get reimbursed for many of the things they serve, because despite being healthy, they don’t fit the guidelines–i.e. a protein–yogurt, cheese at snack time.

    I’ve taught in two different states in different Title I schools. The lunches are disgusting, and most certainly not healthy.

    I believe the issue of pizza being a vegetable, goes beyond the health ramifications. I’ve dedicated a blog to my thoughts.

  10. I think it needs to be clarified in a couple of ways. I am no fan of congress right now, but they did not do anything that suddenly “made pizza a vegetable”. What they did was not approve the new recommendations. Also, the guidelines, current or proposed never single out pizza. The guidelines refer to tomato paste, and how a lower than usual amount can qualify as a serving of vegetables. I believe the current guideline is that 1/8 cup of tomato paste has roughly the nutritional equivalent as a 1/2 cup of other “vegetables”. And I believe this was illustrated recently in a NYT article (Sorry, can’t find it right now).

    So if a slice of pizza, or sloppy joes, or whatever… Is made fresh, and a serving of it include at least 1/8 cup of tomato paste, that tomato paste can be considered a serving of vegetable. I think the proposed guideline sought to up that to 1/4 cup.

    While I’m not saying there aren’t many things that can be improved in our school food programs, I think this whole “pizza is now a vegetable” is a bad argument to be getting behind. It misrepresents the true problems, it’s a “hot button” that easily elicits an emotional response and does nothing to actually educate anyone on the underlying issues.

    1. Rob, you’ve got a good handle on it. The actual regulations for menu planning have some detailed specifics about quantity and such of fruits/vegetables to be served (also depends on the age/grade levels), but the “multiplier” issue was what was at the heart of this. (well, like you also touched on, there is the part about congress getting involved in the first place…)

      Improving meals in schools is a complex issue – deciding what the meals should/shouldn’t contain (everyone eats, there’s often an emotional connection to this issue, along with the scientific input…should meals be local, organic, meat free, should specific foods be included or excluded and so on), determining how to regulate once standards are determined, related issues such as the time available for meals, nutrition education and funding.

      I do hope that some who were brought in by the emotion of the creative headlines will be intrigued enough to learn more.

  11. I’m a chef working as a nutritional consultant with public schools and I can attest to the fact that even the youngest kids know they’re being served poor quality food and want better choices. The work I’ve been doing is aimed at empowering the nutrition staff to take pride in making homemade food that kids like and creating kid-friendly meals (and actually sharing the recipes with the kids) and we’re making these changes in a cost-neutral or cost-savings manner from scratch. Check out this meal we made that cost less than $1.50 to produce, including milk, which demonstrates how easily we can make food kids will enjoy–and also exceeds the current USDA nutritional requirements–without busting the budget.

    Do you think your kid would eat this?

    1. Erin, I only have a couple minutes so just breezed a bit through the article you linked. I see you say the food cost is lower, but do you factor in additional labor costs? direct food costs are only one part of the equation.

      I’ve read a number of articles lately that do admit that it can cost more to do fresh cooked meals because of increased utility and labor costs… not to say it isn’t worth it in the end, but I think if it is true, that the TOTAL cost is more and advocates continue to tout “fresh costs less” without giving the whole story, we do more damage in the long run.

      If bottom line, it costs a bit more, fine. Embrace it, don’t try to hide it and prove to folks that the extra cost is worth it.

  12. Rob-I’m happy to tell you that the numbers we’re getting that include labor are either cost saving or at least cost neutral. The key is having people on board who can develop systems and strategies to maximize the use of each ingredient, from identifying its most nutritious and palatable version to its role as a leftover to be used in another meal. If the planning is not comprehensive and creative, it can’t work. So my priority is always to incorporate education and foster pride among the nutrition staff, and then together we can figure out what will work best for all parties and facilities involved.

    I truly believe that the increased cost of some fresh or more wholesome foods are offset by these techniques and they compound as word spreads of the better quality food available, morenwill partake. Kids know when they’re being served garbage, an they’re awfully quick to pick up on improvements as well. Most compelling is the astounding level of appreciation these kids heap upon our kitchen staff when they receive a delicious meal they know helps them grow and excel. We don’t give kids enough credit.

    Best, Erin

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