Why Is Milk Part of School Meals?

  • Article
  • September 25, 2019

Milk contributes important nutrients to school meals programs. In fact, milk is an integral part of the federal school meals programs because of its nutrient package – it’s the number-one food source of nine essential nutrients in the diets of America’s children and adolescents.

A 2017 study showed 77 percent of daily milk consumption for low-income children aged 5-18 came from the national school meals programs, underscoring the importance of school meals and milk as part of them to help children meet their nutritional needs for growth and development. Because most age groups fall short in meeting daily milk and dairy recommendations, school meals are an opportunity to help close the gap and bring students closer to nutrient recommendations for calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients provided by milk.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture restored low-fat (1%) flavored milk in schools and noted in the final rule that “expanding milk choices will likely improve student participation in the school meal programs and increase milk consumption.”

The updated milk standards require that:

  • All milk must be fat-free or low-fat.
  • Milk may be unflavored or flavored.
  • A variety of milk (two options) must be offered.
  • Unflavored milk must be offered at each meal service.

What does “variety” mean?

When deciding the variety of milk offered, a school can take into consideration the fat level or flavor when deciding the two milk options. For example, a school can offer low-fat unflavored and low-fat flavored milk to meet the variety requirement.

By broadening milk choices in schools, students have more options that encourage milk consumption and increase the chance they will get their recommended daily servings of dairy to help close the gap on key nutrients needed for growth and development.

If you have questions about school milk in your area, please reach out to your local dairy council.