How Pizza Became a Vegetable In Your Kid's Lunch

Calling the tomato paste on pizza a vegetable, Congress pushes back against proposed healthier school lunch guidelines

Parents are always trying to find ways to sneak more vegetables into their children's diets. Tossing some green peppers or mushrooms onto a homemade pizza can often pass a picky eater's scrutiny if it's covered in enough cheese. But as parents, we don't fool ourselves that a slice of pizza is actually a serving of vegetables. There is a growing movement on Capitol Hill, though, to convince the nation of just that.

Some members of Congress think they can do their part to cut government spending by declaring that pizza can be counted as a vegetable for school lunch purposes because of the tomato paste on it. Others want to classify french fries as a vegetable, too, claiming the tasty fried treats can be just as nutritious as other veggies. If Ronald Reagan was still alive, he might say that if you serve those fries up with a nice side of ketchup, you've got two daily servings of vegetables out of the way!

All joking aside, efforts on Capitol Hill to reduce federal spending on the backs of children who count on federally subsidized school lunches is no laughing matter. Yet some of the lawmakers who are counting pennies seem to think that serving children healthier food options would be “overly burdensome and [too] costly.” Food industry lobbyists are pushing the "pizza is a veggie" idea which would clearly benefit the bottom line of the pizza industry, but at a time of overwhelming childhood obesity in our nation, does it make sense to cut corners on the dollars we spend on school lunches? Some studies show that more than twelve million American school kids are overweight. With that kind of statistic, is it fair to allow powerful lobbyists to push for more salty fries or pepperoni pizza each day in school cafeterias so their clients can make more money, while school children suffer the nutrition consequences?

Certainly, there are those who argue that Uncle Sam has no business deciding what our kids eat and that if parents don’t like those subsidized school lunches, they should pack their children something better from home. For a lot of families it’s not that easy. School lunches are inexpensive compared to the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially for families who live in areas without one of those large chain food stores. And many children who eat those lunches qualify to get them for free because their parents’ incomes are so low. Stop and think just how much it actually costs to pack something like tuna on whole wheat bread with some carrots or an apple when you’re living on food stamps. The cost of that simple lunch would take a big slice out of a slim monthly food budget for an entire family.

iVillage contributor Joanne Bamberger writes about the intersection of motherhood and politics at her blog, PunditMom. She is the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics In America, which is on sale now at Amazon.com.

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