Save the spuds; just stop dunking them in hot oil

Potatoes are getting whipped once again.

First we had the low-carb diet craze, which scared some folks out eating potatoes, bread and pasta, among other foods.

The spud received some redemption last year when the Washington State Potato Commission's Chris Voigt lived on nothing but potatoes for two months, losing 21 pounds and lowering his cholesterol by 67 points. Voigt's experiment was so appealing, his story ended up being international news and fantastic potato public relations.

But now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a plan to wipe spuds off the nation's school lunch programs.

The USDA's proposal requires an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. That all makes sense. It also bans trans fat and limits starches. OK, we're still listening.

Starchy vegetables -- which have their place as part of healthy diet -- would be limited to two servings a week. That includes peas, corn, lima beans and potatoes. Wait a second!

Don't we all remember our moms making us eat our peas and lima beans? Because they were good for us, right? Is the USDA questioning Mom's intelligence? That is dangerous territory, even for a government agency.

Being from a major spud-producing state, we can easily see the flaws in the USDA's logic. Potatoes have long been known as a low-cost, nutritious food that helps fill out a plate and fill up a belly.

The real problem isn't the potato, it's how the poor potato has been treated.

That's right, stop frying them and everything will be alright. Let the potato show its natural deliciousness with just a little roast in the oven with a dusting of olive oil and salt and pepper. Or make baked potato bars for the kids with healthy toppings. Kids love toppings just as much as they love dipping things. Consider them potatoes with sprinkles!

Tater tots and French fries have long been staples in school lunches, but they don't need to be on the plate. Lots of other yummy ways exist to cook a spud. Have you seen many kids turn down mashed potatoes?

What we need to feed our kids are good, whole foods grown as close to home as we can find them in order to hold nutritional value and freshness. And that's where potatoes shine, again. Unlike many vegetables, potatoes have an amazing shelf life when stored properly and are available year-round.

We know we've got an obesity problem, especially among kids in our nation. And they need some guidance in leading healthier lives. But we would wager we would see a greater improvement in kids' health if folks would limit video game and computer time at home, put more of an emphasis back on physical education in schools and get their kids outside and active.

Stop blaming potatoes and start aiming the ire at our epidemic of couch potatoes.

As adults, we have the knowledge and ability to make good decisions for ourselves and our families. We all know fried foods should not make up a significant portion of our diets. The occasional splurge is only human, and recommended by many nutrition programs.

The government already barred federal dollars from being spent on potatoes for the WIC program, which provides food for low-income women and their children. We just don't understand that kind of thinking.

Removing perfectly good vegetables from school menus just because folks can't or won't take the time to prepare them in a nutritious fashion, is wrong. You can't condemn the potato because of the French fry. Pulling potatoes from school lunches is not the answer to a healthier nation of children.