The Kid Angle: Old McDonald had too many potatoes

Despite their persistent rap as carb-bombs, potatoes are actually full of fiber and Vitamin C. They’re really good for you. But too much of a good thing is still too much.

Someone needs to tell the House Ag Committee.

The Committee is expected to release its version of the Farm Bill as early as tomorrow (Friday, May 17). An outline of the document suggests that it would reverse science-supported updates that make it possible for families to follow a more varied, healthful and nutritionally balanced diet.

At issue is the Thrifty Food Plan, a device that determines the benefits offered in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Thrifty Food Plan assumes a market basket of foods designed to provide a frugal but nutritious diet. The total cost of this market basket is used to calculate the SNAP benefits that each household and participant receives. Until an update in 2021, the dietary guidance and food consumption patterns assumed by the Thrifty Food Plan had remained unchanged for decades, making it wildly out-of-touch with the real life needs, tastes and habits of U.S. families. The plan was adjusted only for inflation. These mistaken assumptions eroded the value of SNAP benefits, making it harder for families to stretch the meager food assistance.

For instance, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, before the updates, the TFP assumed that the weekly diet of a family of four would include:

  • 12 pounds of potatoes
  • 25 pounds of milk
  • 20 pounds of orange juice
  • 5 pounds of fresh oranges
  • and very few other commonly purchased but relatively more expensive staple foods, such as leafy greens and vegetables.

This plan represents roughly twice the amount of milk, potatoes and fruit that the average family consumes, according to a study by The Hamilton Project, and far less chicken, cheese and lettuce. The previous Thrifty Food Plan also assumed that these low-income families — where parents often work two or more jobs — would spend hours each day preparing meals, for instance soaking beans instead of buying canned beans.

The last Farm Bill, in 2018, called for a study that updated these nutritional assumptions and increased the prices used to calculate SNAP benefits accordingly. Think: More lettuce, fewer potatoes.

House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson is expected to propose ditching these updates and returning to a Thrifty Food Plan that is adjusted only for inflation.

That reversal would grossly undermine the health and nutrition of the 40 million people — nearly half of them children — who rely on SNAP benefits. It would deprive these children of the nutrient-dense, belly-filling foods that will nourish them into healthy adulthoods and productive citizenship.

The House plays a powerful role in shaping the Farm Bill and it must address these missteps as quickly as possible The Senate Agriculture Committee promises a more appropriate and health-oriented version of the Farm Bill, one that would protect the Thrifty Food Plan and improve the update process.

For a side-by-side comparison of the two proposals, please see First Focus on Children’s Farm Bill Fact Sheet.