Friday May 27, 2011 | 02:40 PM

Sen. Olympia Snowe is trying to take the fight over the school lunch program and the nutritional value of potatoes right to the top – First Lady Michelle Obama.

The Maine Republican has written a letter urging the first lady, who focuses much of her time and effort on children’s nutrition and fitness issues, to take up the fight against a proposed federal rule limiting the amount of starchy vegetables that can be served as part of the free and reduced-price school lunch and breakfast program.
 
Snowe and other white potato advocates insist the potato, a big Maine crop, is healthy and nutritious if prepared in a nutritious – not fried – manner.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to limit to one cup a week the amount of starchy vegetables – potatoes, peas and corn – that can be served as part of the lunch program and it would ban the potato completely from the breakfast program.
 
Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have been waging a campaign against the rules, which are being finalized and likely will be in effect by the 2012-2013 school year. An earlier effort to keep the white potato from being excluded from a USDA list of fruits and vegetables for the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program was unsuccessful.
 
Snowe also sent a letter this week to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about the potato’s place in the school lunch program. But she clearly is hoping that the first lady will get involved in the issue.
 
“It seems to me that we should be encouraging more vegetable choices – especially vegetables children will eat – rather than fewer choices,” Snowe wrote the first lady. “While the agency’s motivations may be well intentioned, I hope you will join me in expressing to the USDA that the implementation of the proposed rule in its current form may delay the achievement of our mutual goal – providing children with nutritious meals and developing life-long healthy eating habits.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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