If a budget bill passes Congress, schools will be able to continue defining a slice of pizza as a vegetable. Image: Flickr / kankan / CC-BY

If a spending bill introduced in Congress on Monday passes, proposed changes to school lunch programs would be blocked. If the changes are blocked, both pizza and fried tater tots will continue to be counted as vegetables.

How pizza could be a vegetable

According to current nutritional regulations that govern school lunches, two tablespoons of tomato paste can count as a serving of vegetables. A slice of frozen pizza can include this amount of tomato sauce, which means that the school can count the cheese-and-sodium packed food as a vegetable.

Blocking new regulations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, working with the White House, has been developing new standards for subsidized school lunches for the past year. These new UDSA standards would limit starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes, would consider a cup of tomato paste a vegetable and would require schools to work toward limiting sodium in lunches. Though the regulations would only technically affect free and reduced price lunches, which are government-subsidized, they effectively impact all school lunches.

School lunches in a budget bill

The bill that would block the USDA’s changes to school lunches is a part of a operational budget bill. The $182 billion bill is intended to fund the day-to-day operational expenses of the department of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Commerce and Agriculture. The bill is a compromise between the House and Senate, and is generally expected to pass. The school lunch provisions have been attached to the bill as a rider that will pass or fail with the bill.

A debate over what students eat

Though the latest debate has been over the fact that pizza would essentially be defined as a vegetable if current rules stand, it is not the only controversy this change has elicited. The USDA would also try to limit the amount of potato products served in schools, effectively cutting out french fries and tater tots, which are served almost daily in some schools. This has elicited strong responses from potato growers, who argue that the vegetable is nutritious and inexpensive, when prepared properly.


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