Tackle unhealthy school lunches

1/8 cup of tomato paste should not equal 1/2 cup of vegetables.

Editorial board

Headlines like âÄúCongress declares pizza a vegetableâÄù may have misled the public into believing Congress made a blunder that they didnâÄôt really make. They didnâÄôt literally declare pizza a vegetable; they allowed an eighth of a cup of tomato sauce, which is used on pizzas, to be counted as a full half-cup serving of vegetables in public school lunches. But with childhood obesity rates at more than 18 percent for children ages 7 to 18, the initial outrage at the tomato industry and our legislature is indeed warranted. If you compare the nutrition facts of an eighth of a cup of tomato paste against a half-cup of another commonly served vegetable or fruit, the caloric intake, fat content, fiber and nutrients are astonishingly similar. While tomato paste contains a lot of sodium, the sugar content is actually less than the fructose in most fruits. So the tomato paste by itself is not the problem. The problem is when you serve it with the dough, cheese and meat of pizza, adding hundreds of calories. One cannot ignore the implications of counting an eighth cup of tomato paste as a vegetable: It will lead to more students eating more pizza for lunch in public schools. Federal regulations currently stipulate a limit for the amount of fat served âÄî less than 30 percent of the meal. A 2007 nationwide audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that only 20 percent of schools served meals that were up to par with the federal limits for fat content. Pizza is a contributing factor to this problem. With diabetes more common in children under age 10, cardiac risk factors growing in teens and a reported 35 percent increase in the rate of strokes among children ages 5 to 14, society should demand a critical response. Schools need to give pizza the boot and provide healthier lunches.