Perhaps it’s their starring role in greasy french fries or buttery mash that has given potatoes a bad rap as a not-so-nutritious vegetable. But recently, researchers have taken a little closer look at the benefits of the humble spud. And guess what? The butter and milk in mashed potatoes—not the tubers themselves—are responsible for the increased risk of diabetes.
In fact, more and more studies are showing the nutritional potential of potatoes in building a satisfying, nutritious plant-based diet. And it turns out that a potato can do a lot more.
In the field of children’s nutrition, new research has found that potatoes can help solve an age-old problem: how to get kids to eat more vegetables.
Published in a scientific journal Nutrients A study by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, led by Dr. Gene Ahlborn of Brigham Young University, examines the potential of potatoes to increase vegetable consumption among school-aged children.
“Getting kids to eat their vegetables is always a challenge,” Ahlborn said in a statement. “Not only do potatoes add nutrients like potassium directly to the plate, but they can also encourage children to explore the other vegetables they are offered, helping them get closer to meeting their overall nutritional needs.”
Potatoes: port vegetable?
According to the American Dietary Guidelines, children between the ages of 3 and 18 should get two and a half to three cups of vegetables per day, but the average consumption is alarmingly low, around one cup. To address this shortcoming, Ahlborn’s research sought to understand the impact of school meals on children’s vegetable consumption.
The research methodology has been carefully designed to simulate the school’s cafeteria environment. Children were given a baseline meal containing 2% milk, chicken nuggets, ketchup, and applesauce, and an experimental component containing mixed peas and carrots (MPACs) in different presentations.
The experimental meal component had five variations: MPACs and a whole wheat bun served separately (control condition); MPACs and potato-shaped toppings are served in separate bowls; MPACs and Seasoned Diced Fries are served in separate bowls; MPACs and Seasoned Diced Fries are served in the same bowl; and MPACs and potato-shaped faces are served in the same bowl.
The results showed that children ate more vegetables when peas and carrots were served with potato-like emoticons, illustrating how food presentation and familiarity can influence children’s eating habits.
“Presentation matters when serving meals to children; if something looks weird or strange, kids are less likely to try it,” Stephanie McBurnett, RDN, nutrition educator for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, tells VegNews.
“Potato-shaped smiley faces or tater tots can provide a familiar taste and a friendly appearance,” she says, noting that children may be exposed to new foods up to 15 times, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. or more before they are receptive to trying them.
More potato benefits for kids
Loved by people of all ages, potatoes are a versatile base that can provide a satisfying combination of starch and salt. But can they really be good starter vegetables for kids?
“Potatoes are a starchy vegetable that contains healthy complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants,” says McBurnett. However, he warns against certain cooking methods.
– The nutritional benefits are reduced when potatoes are fried in oil, which reduces fiber, vitamins and minerals while increasing the fat and sodium content, he says.
McBurnett also emphasizes the importance of a versatile plant-based diet. “Although potatoes are healthy and a vegetable, that doesn’t mean they should replace other hugely versatile and nutritious vegetables such as cruciferous, dark green leafy vegetables, orange/red and starchy vegetables.”
Some practical ways to include potatoes in school meals to encourage a balanced diet? “Whole potatoes, such as boiled, baked and roasted, can be a healthy addition to school meals,” McBurnett says, recommending combinations such as mashed potatoes with roasted carrots, twice-baked potatoes with broccoli, and hearty potato soup with corn.
These pairings not only enhance the nutritional value of meals, but also increase the appeal of other vegetables.
Serving vegetables at school
The long-term impact of the results of this study can help shape menus in schools that increasingly want to serve more sustainable, nutritious foods and keep kids happy.
McBurnett believes that introducing potatoes in a child-friendly way can lead to positive changes in children’s eating habits over time.
“One way to successfully introduce unfamiliar foods to children is to pair them with foods they already know and accept,” explains McBurnett. “As long as potatoes don’t overwhelm or displace other vegetables, this is an appropriate way to add foods to children’s diets as they get older.”
– Offering a few emoticons on top of other vegetables can increase the consumption of the included vegetables, he says.
However, the nutritionist warns of an excessive portion of potatoes, which can lead to children eating them full before reaching for other vegetables.
Schools face significant challenges in implementing these findings, primarily due to budget constraints and the need to approve children’s meals.
While acknowledging the significant challenges schools face, such as budget constraints, McBurnett sees an opportunity for them to implement strategies that can encourage children to try and enjoy new and healthy vegetables, improving the overall nutritional quality of school meals.
“Schools have a critical responsibility to provide nutritious foods to children, even though these foods may not be the norm in their home lives,” notes McBurnett.
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