Dairy & School Meals
Milk is required as a part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs because it provides a powerful package of 13 essential nutrients that are good for overall wellness. Schools can choose to offer white and flavored, fat-free and 1% milk, as well as lactose-free milk. Low-fat and fat-free yogurt and cheese can also be part of school meals.
The Healthy Hungry-Free Kid Act, require school meal programs to meet specific nutrition standards. The standards are developed using the latest nutrition science. The school lunch and breakfast programs require milk be offered as part of the meal. While students are generally not required to take it, meals that include milk provide more nutrients than those without.
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.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize that a small amount of added sugars, which fall within the daily calorie limit, can be used to increase the appeal of nutrient-rich foods, such as low-fat flavored milk. While there are many flavored milk formulations, the flavored milk served in school meals has an average of 8.2 grams of added sugar per 8 oz, slightly less than 2 teaspoons of added sugar.
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.
- 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.
- Replacing nutrient contribution from milk requires three to four food items but adds back more calories and fat than were originally contributed by milk
- Additional impacts
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, fruit, and vegetable. Learn how to credit properly by following the USDA’s Smoothie guidance and using our smoothie recipes and resources.
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.
Milk taste continues to be a reason students decline to select milk with school meals. Improper storage and service temperature is one factor that can affect milk taste. Watch our Chill Out with Cold Milk webinar recording for tips on how to keep your milk as cold as possible and one free CEU and order our Free Chill Out with Cold Milk Toolkit.
You may need to contact your processor if you experience quality issues that can’t be explained by your handling and storage practices.
Real milk packs in a lot of nutrition, especially protein – it contains 8 grams of protein per 8 oz serving. Allowable milk alternates must first provide at least 8 grams of protein per 8 oz serving and they must contain the following minimum levels of nutrients to ensure they are providing similar nutrition to dairy milk.
|Alternative Beverage Requirements||1% Low-fat Milk|
|Protein 8 g||Protein 8 g|
|Calcium 276 mg||Calcium 310 mg|
|Vitamin D 100 IU||Vitamin D 104 IU|
|Vitamin A 500 IU||Vitamin A 500 IU|
|Potassium 349 mg||Potassium 391 mg|
|Phosphorus 220 mg||Phosphorus 253 mg|
|Magnesium 24 mg||Magnesium 29.5 mg|
|Riboflavin .44 mg||Riboflavin .344 mg|
|Vitamin B12 1.1 mcg (micrograms)||Vitamin V12 1.5 mcg (micrograms)|
*Alternate beverage reference on page 2
Water is important for hydration and should be encouraged throughout the day. When water is consumed at meals instead of milk students often miss out on key nutrients they need more of in their diets like calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. The nutrients lost when students choose another beverage are difficult to make up with other foods while keeping to the same amount of calories and fat.
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.
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.