Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced a bill Monday to stop the amount of tomato paste used on a children’s slice of pizza from counting as a serving of vegetables in school lunches, arguing that the standard effectively qualifies pizza as a vegetable.
He said he hopes the measure can be included in this year’s farm bill.
“Pizza has a place in school meals but equating it with broccoli, carrots and celery seriously undermines this nation’s efforts to support children’s health,” a fact sheet from Polis’s office stated.
Legislative language passed last year blocked stricter school nutrition standards proposed by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and allowed an eighth of a cup of tomato paste — roughly the amount used on a children’s slice of pizza — to count as one serving of vegetables.
Polis called the decision “absurd” and blamed both Congress and the frozen food lobby.
“Big food companies have their priorities, which include selling cheap, unhealthy foods at high profits,” Polis said in a statement. “But parents and schools have their priorities: making sure our kids eat right.”
As more research suggests that the United States’s obesity crisis is worsening, health advocates and industry have become increasingly at odds on how to address the problem.
Corey Henry, vice president of communications for the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), said that tomato paste has “significant nutritional value” and is “packed with Vitamins A and C and rich in fiber, potassium and antioxidants.”
“Nearly two whole tomatoes are required to make just one tablespoon of tomato sauce, which is why USDA rightly credits one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste as a full serving of vegetables,” Henry said in statement.
He added that “Congress did not make pizza a vegetable” last year.
“Pizza is not now considered a vegetable and never will be considered a vegetable, and no one has ever, or will ever, ask that pizza be considered a vegetable,” the statement read.
“Congress acted to retain the current vegetable crediting for tomato paste … in recognition of tomato paste’s significant nutritional value.”
Polis’s measure — the SLICE (School Lunch Improvements for Children’s Education) Act — would empower the USDA to implement “healthful” standards for the pizza served in public school cafeterias, according to a release.
The bill would specifically permit the USDA to apply “sodium reduction targets” and “whole grain requirements” to the pizza served to students and bar one-eighth cup amount of tomato paste from counting as a serving of vegetables under school nutrition guidelines.
Henry said that the frozen pizza provided by AFFI members to schools is “calorie and portion controlled, made with whole grains, and rich in fiber with reduced levels of fat and sodium.”
“Frozen food producers are committed to working with our school nutritionist partners to provide healthy food options that improve nutrition,” his statement read.