How Has Dairy Consumption Changed in Schools?

  • 3 min read October 10, 2023

Much has changed in the world since the pandemic, including dairy consumption at schools. Has it gone up or down? How does dairy consumption at school affect home consumption and vice versa? What should the dairy industry be focused on when it comes to children’s nutrition and youth wellness?

New York dairy farmer and National Dairy Council Chair Audrey Donahoe discusses the checkoff’s new youth wellness research and more with Anne Warden, Executive Vice President of Marketing, Communications, and Affairs at Dairy Management Inc., and Tim Joyce, Principal at ZS on the Your Dairy Checkoff podcast.


Dairy Consumption at Home and School

Perhaps unsurprisingly, home consumption of dairy impacts whether a student will choose dairy at school.

It is estimated that youth ages 5-18 consume about 6.5 billion pounds of dairy annually at home and 4.4 billion pounds of dairy at school.

“The biggest opportunity to grow in the school channel is on the product experience side of milk,” Joyce said.

Schools remain the primary place kids get access to healthy meals, including milk.

“Most kids by age 4 are not getting the recommended daily servings of dairy,” said Warden. “The most common nutrient deficiencies in kids are iron, calcium, vitamin D and zinc, which is something that milk and other dairy products provide.”

The School Experience

Access to dairy is a critical element for students to get the nutrition real dairy provides, Warden explained.

“Is [dairy] there at breakfast? Are there mobile options in the schools? All of these make a really big difference whether a child is consuming the recommended amount of dairy.”

The pandemic had a significant impact on school meals. From 2020 to 2023 there were 23 million fewer breakfast meals served in schools.

The research conducted found there is an opportunity to increase dairy consumption by 187 million pounds annually through product taste, packaging and availability enhancements.

Additionally, increased education and perception of dairy has an opportunity to increase consumption by 94 million pounds.

“It’s really important now that dairy farmers have an accurate view of, ‘If I invest here, here is exactly what the return on investment could be,’” said Warden.

Evolution of Fuel Up

Farmer leaders within the dairy checkoff have encouraged maintaining the legacy of the Fuel Up to Play 60 program but evolving it to meet the changing school landscape.

“The good nutrition in dairy can fuel so much more than physical activity,” said Warden.

This summer, the dairy checkoff announced the new Fuel Up program, which will bring involvement from other partners while maintaining collaboration with the NFL.

This, among other initiatives such as the dairy-based STEM curriculum and reaching new and expecting parents, is designed to keep dairy on trend.

What Can Farmers Do Locally?

Warden emphasizes the local nature of schools, sharing that state and regional checkoff organizations are essential to carrying out Fuel Up and other educational programs in schools.

Dairy farmers can seek ways to actively engage with students in classrooms and at mealtimes at schools in their local community.

“Giving us feedback on what needs you’re seeing in districts and schools really matters,” shared Warden.

Farmers can connect with the dairy checkoff through their state and regional organizations or by sending an email to