Home Industry News Economics Dairy Associations Applaud USDA Final School Meal Rule for Maintaining Dairy Options, Preserving Flavored Milk for All Grades

Dairy Associations Applaud USDA Final School Meal Rule for Maintaining Dairy Options, Preserving Flavored Milk for All Grades

Michael Dykes, President and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), and Gregg Dodd, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation issued statements applauding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rule updating the meal patterns for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). The updated rule preserves the ability for schools across the country to serve nutritious flavored milk to students in all grades as long as the product meets IDFA’s Healthy School Milk Commitment guidelines, which ensures an 8-ounce half-pint of non-fat or low-fat flavored milk contains no more than 10 grams of added sugar per serving. IDFA established the Commitment in early 2023 with 37 school milk processors. Today, the average added sugar level is 7.5 grams per serving for flavored milk in schools, well below the USDA threshold.

“This final rule helps ensure kids will be able to choose a nutritious milk they tend to prefer,” said Gregg Doud of NMPF. “Many children prefer low-fat flavored milk over fat-free, and flavored milk offers the same nutrients as regular milk with a minor amount of added sugar.”

NMPF praised its member cooperatives for their tireless work to decrease the level of added sugar in flavored school milk, which now generally falls below the added sugar maximum established in this final rule. “Not only does flavored milk offer the same nutrients as regular milk, its presence correlates with decreased waste in school cafeterias. I am proud of our industry’s successful commitment to providing a healthy product that kids want,” Doud said.

Michael Dykes from IDFA shared the following:

“School meals are a nutrition lifeline for millions of children across the United States. The final meal pattern rules released today by USDA will expand dairy options that appeal to children by providing a variety of healthy, nutritious, and delicious dairy options that meet the needs of kids of all backgrounds. For example, approximately 70% of all milk consumed in school meals is flavored milk. By offering nutritious flavored milk options in grades K-12 consistent with IDFA’s Healthy School Milk Commitment, parents and school foodservice directors can have confidence that America’s students will get the same essential nutrients with fewer calories and less added sugars than ever before. Thanks to the leadership of America’s milk processors, flavored milk in schools today is fully consistent with the latest federal dietary guidelines. These options provide the same 13 essential nutrients as unflavored milk, reduce plate waste, and encourage greater meal participation. IDFA also commends the bipartisan Members of Congress who passed legislation earlier this year that required the Department to maintain flavored milk in school meals at all grade-levels as part of its final rule.

“Furthermore, IDFA was pleased that USDA’s rule re-emphasized lactose-free milk as an option in all reimbursable meals. Schools should offer lactose-free milk as a choice to all students, which would mark major progress for child health and nutrition equity in our school meals. 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 choose a dairy option that meets their needs and provides all the same essential nutrients as traditional dairy.

“While IDFA had sought to exclude sodium used for food safety and functional purposes in cheese-making, IDFA appreciates USDA’s final rule maintaining current school meal sodium targets through School Year 2026-27 before adopting a more attainable, and permanent, school meal sodium target.

“Despite these positive developments for child nutrition, we are disappointed the USDA final rule released today sets an added sugar limit for yogurt that is out of step with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines. The DGA is clear that added sugars may be used to increase the intake of nutrient-dense foods like yogurt. As an essential meat alternative for many children, consumption of yogurt has also been associated with higher diet quality in children, higher intake of multiple nutrients including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin D, and lower incidence of cardiovascular risk factors in adolescents, particularly total and excess abdominal body fat.

NMPF commended the work of Reps. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, R-PA, and Joe Courtney, D-CT, who led and secured broad bipartisan backing for legislative efforts over several years that were instrumental to today’s outcome of restoring low-fat flavored milk as a long-term option for schools.

“We are grateful to Representatives Thompson and Courtney for spearheading the successful drive to restore low-fat flavored milk over these last 12 years,” Doud said. “We are thrilled that, working with these members, USDA has put this issue to rest.”

USDA also missed an opportunity to restore 2% and whole milk to school breakfast and lunch. A plethora of science demonstrates dairy fat is unique, unlike typical saturated fats, in delivering positive and neutral health outcomes to people across all demographics. IDFA and NMPF will continue to work with policymakers and lawmakers to enact the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 1147/S. 1957).

“School breakfast and lunch are the healthiest meals of a child’s day because they provide a variety of nutritious foods and beverages including 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. The updates to school meal patterns announced by USDA represent a step in the right direction to correct chronic underconsumption of dairy foods by America’s youth.”

About IDFA:

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C., represents the nation’s dairy manufacturing and marketing industry, which supports more than 3.2 million jobs that generate $49 billion in direct wages and $794 billion in overall economic impact. IDFA’s diverse membership ranges from multinational organizations to single-plant companies, from dairy companies and cooperatives to food retailers and suppliers, all on the cutting edge of innovation and sustainable business practices. Together, they represent most of the milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and cultured products, and dairy ingredients produced and marketed in the United States and sold throughout the world. Delicious, safe and nutritious, dairy foods offer unparalleled health and consumer benefits to people of all ages.

About NMPF:

The National Milk Producers Federation, based in Arlington, VA, develops and carries out policies that advance dairy producers and the cooperatives they own. NMPF’s member cooperatives produce more than two-thirds of U.S. milk, making NMPF dairy’s voice on Capitol Hill and with government agencies. For more, visit www.nmpf.org.

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