IDFA Urges USDA To Expand Dairy In School Meals
Expanding the amount of nutritious dairy food options provided to children through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) would improve nutrition for children of all backgrounds, reduce waste in school meal programs, and increase participation in the federal child nutrition programs, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).
IDFA submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the agency’s proposed changes to the meal patterns for school nutrition programs. The comments urge USDA to align the NSLP and SBP with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) by encouraging increased consumption of nutritious dairy products like school milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products. The 2020-2025 DGA highlights that between 68% and 76.2% of school age males and between 77.4% and 94.3% of school-age females fail to meet recommended levels of dairy.
To do this, USDA should expand dairy product options to meet the dietary needs and preferences of children from all backgrounds. Encouraging—rather than restricting—consumption of DGA-compliant, unflavored and flavored milks and yogurts, will encourage greater meal consumption, less waste, and delivery of 13 essential nutrients. Providing lactose free milk, as well as other dairy products with low lactose content, will allow more school children, including those with lactose malabsorption or lactose intolerance, to find a dairy option that meets their needs and provides needed nutrition. Permitting dairy at all fat levels—provided current saturated fat limits are met—will also encourage consumption of nutritious, DGA-compliant foods that reduce waste, improve program participation, and improve nutrition.
“School meals are already a nutrition success story,” said Joseph Scimeca, senior vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs at IDFA. “These meals are a key source of nutrition for children, and they are often the healthiest meal of a child’s day because they provide a variety of nutritious foods and beverages like dairy, fruits, and vegetables. Dairy products provide 13 essential nutrients that children need for growth, development, healthy immune function, mental health, and overall wellness, yet most children do not consume enough dairy to meet federal dietary recommendations. IDFA is urging USDA to expand dairy options that appeal to and provide good nutrition to children of all backgrounds when they finalize school meal nutrition standards.”
One way USDA can encourage students to meet nutritional needs is by offering nutritious flavored milk options with fewer added sugars in grades K-12. IDFA, on behalf of 37 milk processors and subsidiaries representing more than 90% of the school milk volume in the U.S., announced in April the Healthy School Milk Commitment—a pledge by dairy companies to deliver milk’s 13 essential nutrients to America’s students while reducing calories and added sugars in flavored milk. Beginning with the 2025-2026 school year, the school milk processors will provide healthy, nutritious school milk options with no more than 10 grams of added sugar per 8 fluid ounces serving.
“Flavored milk products such as chocolate milk offered in schools today contain an average of 8.2 grams of added sugar per serving, which is fully consistent with the latest federal DGA and ahead of current school meal nutrition guidelines established by the USDA,” said Scimeca. “These options provide the same 13 essential nutrients as unflavored milk, reduce plate waste, and encourage greater meal participation. With the Healthy School Milk Commitment, USDA and schools should feel confident about offering nutritious non-fat and low-fat flavored milk options in grades K-12.”
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