Digging Deeper with Potatoes

The article, "The Eyes Have It," explores these unassuming, yet historically and nutritionally important tubers. Here are some additional ideas for curious minds.

* In your outdoor garden (or large containers outdoors), experiment with different methods of growing potatoes -- in trenches, on top of soil covered in hay mulch, in piles of compost, etc. Design experiments to determine the best conditions, spacing, and ways to treat your potato crop. Consider bringing the nutritious harvest to your local food shelf or soup kitchen.

* As part of a St. Patrick's day celebration, research the history, uses, and folklore associated with the potato in Ireland.

* After researching the history of the potato, have students use the world maps to trace potatoes' path from their origin to the United States.

* Try different methods for preserving potatoes. Consider making freeze-dried potatoes as did the Incas. Put half a potato in a plastic bag and let it freeze overnight, then press the water out of it and repeat the process. Compare that with other preservation and storage methods.

* After researching information about the public reaction to potatoes historically, brainstorm and discuss more current food- and non-food-related examples of people confusing fact and opinion. Invite students to brainstorm other foods that have shifted in popularity over time. What types of factors (or kinds of advertising) do they think contribute to foods gaining in popularity?

* Give a potato to each pair of students. Have them come up with as much mathematical information as they can, for example: Measurements, weight, number of eyes. Next, have them work with larger groups to determine the average weight, average number of eyes, whether the number of eyes correlates to weight or size, etc.

* Visit a supermarket to discover the different types of potatoes available. Find out which are considered best for which uses and why. Have a tasting party!

* Have students research the histories of other crops they think may also have had a strong influence on human culture, nutrition, economics, and migration.

* Find out where the word "spud" originated.

* Brainstorm potato-related expressions (e.g., hot potato, couch potato) and discuss how they relate to the actual vegetable. Generate a list of other vegetable-related idioms (e.g., cool as a cucumber) and discuss why they may have developed.

* Have students work in groups to develop creative "advertisements" to promote the virtues of potatoes.

* Have your students make a list of all of the potato products they eat in a week. Encourage them to check the contents of foods for which they're unsure. Combine these on a master classroom chart, then research and try to organize them from the most nutritious to the least nutritious.

* Conduct a class survey to determine how students prefer to have potatoes prepared (e.g., mashed, fried, baked, boiled, etc.), then graph your results.

* Challenge students to write creative stories detailing how the potato chip might have been invented, then use references to research the real story.

* Make potato-shaped recipe booklets with favorite potato recipes gathered from families, teachers, and friends. Include different cultural potato dishes (e.g., potato pancakes, kugel, knishes).

The (Nearly) Perfect Food

If you could choose only one food, some would say to go for the potato which contains no fat, little salt, and is loaded with vitamins, including 50 percent of the U.S. RDA of vitamin C. A diet of potatoes and milk, in fact, offers almost all of the nutrients needed by humans. The main reason potatoes are so nutritious is that they store complex carbohydrates in the form of starch for the plant. Although often accused of being fattening, the average potato has only 100 calories. It's actually the rich butter, sour cream, fat for frying, and other companions that give potatoes that bum rap.

As soon as nutritious potatoes are turned into fries, chips, and other such products, heat and other aspects of processing remove valuable nutrients and fiber. Many of these processed potato products also contain extra fat, sodium, and /or additives.

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