This Spud’s for You

Photo by Dean Jenkins courtesy of www.morguefile.com

The world’s largest potato weighed more than 18 pounds, according to Guinness World Records. I think I was served its slightly smaller cousin at a restaurant.

I didn’t mind getting a giant potato stuffed with chili and cheese. I like potatoes.

I appreciated the generosity of the restaurant, too. It gave me enough food for two meals. I brought half of my meal home for the next day’s lunch.

As we finish up February, National Potato Lovers Month, consider the nutritional value and budget appeal of potatoes.

Potatoes are a nutritional bargain. Consider this: A 5.5-ounce potato has about 100 calories, no fat and 26 grams of carbohydrate. Potatoes are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. A potato with the peel provides 3 grams of fiber.

Potatoes have been accused of being “fattening.” Yes, they are a good source of complex carbohydrates. As the recent “low-carb diet” fad showed, skipping “carbs” doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight.

Excess calories from any source can add extra “padding” to our bodies. The calories can be from any source. We need a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate to stay healthy.

If maintaining your waistline is your concern, don’t shun potatoes. To keep calories in check, limit the amount of high-fat, high-calorie toppings on potatoes.

For example, a 100-calorie potato with no fat becomes a “stuffed potato” with 482 calories and 36 grams of fat when 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons of bacon bits are added. To reduce calories and fat, use low-fat toppings such as light sour cream, reduced-fat cheese or smaller amounts of high-fat toppings.

When selecting potatoes at the grocery store, look for firm, smooth potatoes. Avoid potatoes with wrinkled skin; soft, decayed areas; cuts; or bruises.

Store the potatoes in a cool, dry place and at a temperature between 45 and 50 degrees. Don’t refrigerate potatoes because the starch they contain will change to sugar, resulting in a sweeter taste and excessive browning during cooking.

Potatoes are a versatile menu item, and they are easy on the budget. You can hand-pick them in a bin at most grocery stores or buy them in bags of various weights. Potatoes can be baked, boiled, microwaved, grilled, fried or steamed. They’re available in a variety of forms at the grocery store, including fresh, canned, instant and frozen.

Simply scrub, poke a few holes with a fork or knife and bake at 375 for an hour or so (depending on the size). You can top potatoes with a variety of items, including leftover chili or seasoned meat. For a quick meal, try these potato toppers:

* Shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onion and reduced-fat sour cream
* Chili with beans
* Taco meat, salsa and reduced-fat Mexican-style shredded cheese
* Spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese
* Leftover chopped roast pork or beef with barbecue sauce
* Grilled chicken and ranch dressing

Here’s an easy recipe to serve with roast beef and baked squash.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

1 pound small red potatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes thoroughly. Cut in half. Arrange in shallow pan. Drizzle with olive oil and turn to coat well. Sprinkle evenly with rosemary and salt. Bake uncovered in the oven at 400 degrees, stirring occasionally until tender (25 to 35 minutes).

Makes four servings. Each serving has 145 calories, 18 grams of carbohydrate, 7.2 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber and 298 milligrams of sodium.

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