The Brilliance of Baked Potatoes
One of the most simple ways to consume my favorite vegetable, the baked potato works like the chips in nachos — great by itself, even better with toppings.
People have figured that out, and potato bars are becoming more and more popular as a way of feeding large groups of people for small amounts of money. I don't have hard numbers to back that up. I've just been invited to an astonishing number of potato bars in the past two years.
Baked potatoes have graced this planet for thousands of years, and their origin can be traced back to the roots (pun intended) of potato farming itself. Before the Spanish "discovered" the potato when they conquered Peru in 1536, Incans had been cultivating the vegetable since 8,000 - 5,000 B.C. Incans used baked potatoes for both food and for medical remedy.
Skipping ahead, the baked potato made it big in the U.S. in the early 1900s. "The Great Baked Potato" was promoted with the Northern Pacific Railroad. Really, Idaho farmers had just discovered that some of their otherwise inedible potatoes could be slowly baked into something delicious.
Skipping even further ahead, the 70s and 80s had Americans interested in low-fat diets and the baked potato seemed healthier than fried french fries dripping in grease. That's when the baked potato made an appearance on the Wendy's menu. Interestingly, there's a reason why Wendy's is the only fast food chain that sells these bad boys in addition to fries. Basically, other chains tried to jump onboard, but the time it took to bake the potatoes was too great of a logistical challenge, according to Reader's Digest.
Baked potatoes aren't necessarily a healthful alternative to the more conventional mass feeding foods, such as pizza and nachos. In fact, they're somewhat facetious in their healthful appearance. Like salad, baked potatoes can become meals of their own. If you add enough toppings, just like if you drench salad in enough dressing, the nutritional value diminishes. A loaded spud, such as this one from McAlister's, can contain more than 1,000 calories — that's getting close to the total number you should eat in a day.