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Homage to the Lowly Potato

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I pay my respects to the most popular vegetable in Ireland, the potato. In the US, we treat the potato as a criminal, contributing to the degradation of the American diet and, single-handedly, fattening our children.  In Ireland, during the late-1700’s, the potato was lauded for its ability to feed entire communities, saving the poor from famine and doubling the population in sixty years. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Although most wild potatoes are unfit for human consumption, the South American natives learned to cultivate edible varieties over 3,000 years ago. So valued was the tuber that the Incas worshipped it; they also found ways to preserve potatoes for sustenance during drought and scarcity. The potato arrived in Europe with the Spaniard explorers, but Europeans considered them unfit for human consumption, which, of course, led to using them for medicinal purposes. I guess they really believed if it tasted bad, it must be good for what ails you.  Americans were also suspicious of the potato until President Thomas Jefferson served them; most likely he grew them and prepared them himself.  Regardless of what other countries thought of the potato, the Irish found them to be delicious, easy to grow and nourishing.

The peasants of Ireland realized very quickly that an acre of potatoes would feed an entire family for a year because they had a long storage life. Most of them subsisted on milk and potatoes alone, which isn’t hard to believe. Potatoes are fat-free on their own, but provide plenty of energy in the form of carbohydrates with an ample amount of fiber, especially if you eat the skin. One large potato contains more potassium than a large banana, about half of the Daily Value for vitamin C, and a healthy amount of most of the B vitamins. In terms of magnesium and iron, they are considered an excellent source while their sodium content is almost none.  Basically, when you balance out their missing nutrients with milk, you have the perfect survival meal!

It’s a wonder we don’t fill the food banks with them and abandon the soup kitchens in favor of the potato bar. I can remember times in our life that potatoes sustained us through lean financial times, not exclusively, but they were a staple. With plenty of potatoes, we ate less meat and had a little more to spend on fruits and veggies.

So, hooray for the potato! Now how do we bring them back to the place of honor they deserve? We simply stop deep fat frying them. Bake them, roast them, boil them, or mash them. Keep the fatty toppings, sauces, and gravies to a minimum and enjoy the flavor of the potato. Note that I didn’t suggest eliminating the fat; however, I have gotten to the point that I like my baked potato plain most of the time.  There are ways to satisfy your kids’ taste for French fries without frying them. Below are two recipes my girls like as well or better than fries:

Preheat oven to 400° F.  Scrub and peel potatoes (bakers work best).  Slice the potatoes in wedges and arrange on an oiled baking stone or cookie sheet. You may want to spritz the tops with cooking spray or oil and you can season them before baking if you like. Bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. The girls aren’t big salters, so we season them after they reach the plates.

We also enjoy our own version of “Shake & Bake” potatoes. Preheat oven to 400° F.  Scrub, peel and cube potatoes (any kind will work). Spread the cubes on paper towel to dry while you mix the seasoning. In a gallon sized plastic bag, combine a tablespoon per potato of cheese powder, a teaspoon per potato of flour and whatever seasonings you choose (we like a little garlic powder and Mrs. Dash). Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

What are your kids’ favorite potato dishes? Can you find ways to “healthify” them?

19 Responses to “Homage to the Lowly Potato”

  1. Peter Schott

    I may have to try those shake & bake potatoes. Totally agree that frying is the main reason people look down on potatoes now. We enjoy a good baked potato every now and then. I like mine with butter (and cheese at times). Our kid follows along with that. My wife will take them mostly plain, but doesn't mind the rare loaded potato. We always have trouble doing roasted potatoes that turn out right. Ours tend to be the wrong texture when we try to oven roast them and I'm sure it's just a basic step we're missing.

    Of course, given the choice, our kid would take them mashed (with butter and/or gravy), but we don't do that too often when we cook. She'll always try to take just a little more of the mashed variety when given the chance. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Bonnie Bouwer

    We have considered turning baked potatoes into our main breakfast item. Nice replacement for cereal or pancakes. And how easy!

    Reply
  3. Shirley

    We like mashed potatoes with gravy the most. Any ideas to healthify them would be appreciated. I will try to mash up other veggies in them.

    Reply
  4. Jamie

    Our family’s favorite potatoes are the little red ones chopped up with onions and some miss dash seasoning, salt, pepper, and a little EEVO. Then I cook them on the grill in aluminum foil, although during the winter we use the oven and they are just as tasty.

    Reply
  5. miriama59

    Potatoes are a main staple at our house. Homemade baked parmesan fries, baked potatoes, mashed, au gratin, potato salad..on and on.

    Reply
  6. Judy Bradley

    After making a trip to Ireland a few years ago, I have come to respect the potato more – and hopefully learned not to put all my potatoes in one basket so to speak – or maybe I should say put things besides potatoes in it! It was sad seeing the effects of the potato famine on the people. Your potato recipe sounds yummy!

    Reply
  7. Susan Smith

    I love potatoes, mashed, scalloped, baked soup but my family only like french fries so I don't make a lot of potatoes but when I go out to eat I always order a baked potato.

    Reply
  8. Wilma P

    I think potatoes are one of most versatile vegetables… you can bake them, make cheesey potato soup (one of my favorites), french fry them, boil them and make scallop potatoes and potato salad.
    You can also make many variations on the above to suit your family

    Reply
  9. Marthalynn

    I was just talking to my mom about how much we love potatoes around here! It's really amazing how nutritious they truly are. My son loves them mashed or baked or fried in wedges. We really haven't met a potato we don't like!

    Reply
  10. Katie360

    You can make good gravy low fat. If you chill the broth and skim the fat and then use cornstarch to thicken it, it comes out just as yummy. Also, add part of the vegetable water into the gravy to increase vitamins that end up in the water.

    Reply
  11. @windiwendy

    I love potatoes and my family eats them all the time. We eat potatoes for almost every meal in some way. They are so cheap and haardy. I love it that my kids eat them so well.

    Reply
  12. Denise

    I love my potatoes in any and all ways, but I especially love my grandmother's potato pancakes. I just take a washed potato, shred it on an old box grater, along with an onion and a tablespoon or two of flour to make the batter. I cook them up in a nonstick pan over medium heat… I can't believe how many I get from just one potato!! Love your site!

    Reply
  13. Helene Tienda

    My kids LOVE Mashed Potatoes. I try to keep them leaner by using 1% Milk, but we do like the butter on them, so, I put in just enough butter to give them a little flavor, then. I add just a little bit of salt, not much, as the butter already has some, a little black pepper, and you have a great, and filling, side dish that the kids will never say no to.

    Reply
  14. Lorri S

    I have always loved potatoes! Mashed is my favorite, but just about any way they are fixed is good with me.

    Reply
  15. clynsg

    I frequently eat a raw potato as a snack–I put a little salt on it and munch away. No fat additives at all! Otherwise, my favorite is baked, but I do add butter and sometimes sour cream then.

    Reply
  16. Shannon Alexander

    I never knew so much about potatoes! thanks for the recipe. We are always looking for new things to try

    Reply
  17. dahbou

    My oldest son loves french fries but my youngest and I both love potatoes booked in any way, shape or form. Delicious! The only way I can think of to healthify french fries is to bake them and not fry them.

    Reply

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