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Potato Bars for Schools and Other Foodservice Operations

Q:

I recently saw an article on Salad Bars 2 Schools and wondered if the Idaho Potato Commission has done anything with hot food bars or ways to introduce fresh potatoes into the school system?

A:

You asked a very good question. One of the biggest challenges everyone who works with schools around the country is that they really don’t have very big budgets to spend on food and when a reimbursed meal is just a little over a dollar in food cost, I am totally amazed that they do as much as they do as well as they do.

It’s been twenty years since we did a big push for potato bars. There is a lot to consider when setting something like this up with K-12 grades. Guidelines now require either a ¼ cup portion per student of a cut up potato or a 6 ounce portion when the potato is left whole (about a 120 count carton size). The frequency that a potato can be served at school lunch is a challenge too. While potatoes can be popular with kids, the guidelines stipulate how often this can be menued. Many schools have salad bars, but very few have combination hot and cold bars that are heated or refrigerated to display the protein and produce at its optimum.

By the way, to my knowledge, the first casual dining restaurant chain to have a salad bar was the Refectory in California in the seventies, the first QSR chain was Wendy’s in the eighties. Food bars dropped in popularity for several reasons, including controlling portion sizes and food safety. But they have stayed strong with chains such as Sizzler and Golden Corral who do a terrific job of merchandising the choices for an entrée or side salad.

Here is a link to the Idaho Potato Bar we put together to demonstrate its viability in 1995 to schools, colleges and universities:

Everything you need to know for a successful potato bar

The topics included “Branding” your Potato Bar, Potato Bars with Baked, Mashed or Fried, Storage, Perfect Baking Times, Production Considerations, and Topping Examples.

“What goes around, comes around” used to be a saying I heard my grandparents say, now “What Goes Around… Comes Around” was a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake in 2006. So in the next few months we’ll re-visit the potato bar and how it might fit into today’s foodservice program.