Dairy & School Meals
Federal regulations, through the Healthy Hungry-Free Kid Act, require school meal programs to meet specific nutrition standards. The standards are developed using the latest nutrition science.
Milk is required as a part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs because dairy provides valuable nutrition in a small and inexpensive package. Schools can choose to offer fat-free and 1% milk, either in white or flavored milk, as well as yogurt and cheese.
The federal regulations for school meals require milk be offered as a component of a school breakfast program and one of the required components of reimbursable school lunch. Depending on the menu, a child may be required to take a milk with the school meal in order be counted as a reimbursable meal.
Flavored milk contains the same essential nutrients as white milk and is a delicious way to help people of all ages consume essential vitamins and nutrients important for health. Consider the following impacts to health and nutrition if milk (flavored or not) is removed from the diet:
- Milk contains calcium, vitamin D and potassium which are nutrients of concern that most American’s don’t get enough of.
- Milk consumption (including flavored) in children and adolescents, is associated with higher intakes of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and vitamin A, compared to those who do not drink milk.
- On average, by the time children are 6 years old, milk consumption falls below the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommended daily servings of dairy.
- Children in the U.S., who drink flavored milk, do not have higher Body Mass Indices (BMIs) compared to non-drinkers suggesting that flavored milk does not lead to weight gain.
In the school setting flavored milk enables school nutrition programs to address the nutrient, taste, and health needs of the students they serve.
- Data show that students choose flavored milk 70% of the time.
- When schools removed or limited flavored milk options, milk consumption dropped dramatically (an average of 35%) and equates to a substantial loss in nutrients that can’t be replaced by another beverage.
- Replacing nutrition contribution from milk requires three to four food items but adds back more calories and fat than were originally contributed by milk.
Many schools have been successful in integrating smoothies as part of their reimbursable meal menus. Depending on the recipes used, you can credit smoothies as milk, yogurt and fruit. Learn how to credit properly by first checking out the USDA’s Smoothie guidance followed by our reimbursable meal-compliant and kid-tested smoothie recipes.
We recognize that getting students to take and drink milk can be a challenge. The following ideas might help depending on the reason for milk being left off (or on) the tray.
Warm or sour tasting milk is hugely disappointing and is a guaranteed reason for your students to stop taking or drinking their milk. If you find your milk is regularly at the wrong temperature in holding or at service, we can help you try to find and address the problem. You may need to contact your processor if you experience quality issues that can’t be explained by your handling and storage practices.
Cow’s milk packs a lot of nutrition especially protein – it contains 8 grams of protein per 8 oz serving. Because of this, only soymilk meets the current nutrition standards required for the milk component of school meals.
Water is important for hydration and should be encouraged throughout the day. Milk provides lots of important nutrition as well as hydration but isn’t always allowed or available during other parts of the school day (including at home). While milk is traditionally consumed and considered a beverage, it may be easier to see milk’s place in school meals if you consider it more like other parts of meals as you would cheese or yogurt.
Farm to School
New England dairy farmers play an important role in producing a wholesome, nutritious product that is locally produced year-round and goes from the farm to you in as little as two days. Like other crops, it’s important to bring milk and other dairy products into school cafeterias and classrooms to nourish healthy bodies as well as connect students to where their milk comes from and how it impacts their bodies, the environment, and their communities at large.
Bringing dairy foods, farms and education into schools has the biggest impact when it’s integrated into several areas including the classroom, cafeteria and in the community. We have many resources designed to educate on dairy farming in New England and several have been developed with common core education standards and STEM in mind.
- Classroom– Utilize our “Cow to You” and “Farm to Table” curriculums to stimulate discussion about dairy farming; dairy nutrition and sustainability and food waste with your students.
- Cafeteria- Organize a new smoothie taste test featuring recipes from our Smoothie Recipe Guide.
- Community- Invite students and/or parents and the community to take a virtual dairy farm tour using our 360 videos.
Yes, school milk is truly a local food. In New England, milk makes a very short trip from the farm to you both in time and distance (in just about 48 hours!) The cows can be milked in the morning on a Monday and that milk could be packaged ready and for the supermarket or to be delivered to your school by Wednesday morning. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!
The majority of New England milk is sourced from the over 1,000 family farms in New England or Eastern New York. Many of these dairy farm families live within 100 miles of your school. While some of our dairy farms may still bottle and sell their own milk directly, the majority belong to a co-op and have their milk picked up daily or every other day and it’s sent to a nearby processor. There, it is pooled with milk from other dairy farms in the region, processed, and packaged for schools, the supermarket, or turned into other dairy products we love like cheese, butter, ice cream, and yogurt.
Fuel Up to Play 60
Fuel Up to Play 60 is a national program that was designed to complement school wellness policies and to engage students in the process. The program encourages students to work with adults to implement school-wide initiatives focused on healthy eating and physical activity that can be customized to school needs and wellness policy goals. Examples of Fuel Up to Play 60 projects include starting a grab and go breakfast program, implementing smoothies and starting an after-school walking club. Learn more about the resources we have that can help you implement a successful Fuel Up to Play 60 program.
Yes, students and educators can still access resources and information to support Fuel Up to Play 60 via FuelUpToPlay60.com. However, only schools that participate in National School Lunch and Breakfast programs are eligible for funding.
Our funding is supported by dairy farmers of New England and must support or relate to dairy sales or education in schools. Preference is given to equipment or projects that support capacity-building for school nutrition programs, particularly dairy-forward menu items. Our funding worksheet provides more information and can help you develop a well-crafted and thought-out application.
Our Fuel Up to Play 60 grants should be used to build capacity for programs or introduce new dairy-forward menu options. In most cases applications for equipment replacement will not be considered. Talk with your processor or look to USDA equipment grants to replace cooler equipment.