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NMPF Protecting Dairy in School Nutrition Programs

June 8, 2023

NMPF submitted comments on May 10 advocating for continuing to serve low-fat flavored milk in addition to fat-free varieties for all grade levels and highlighting the role milk, cheese and yogurt play in making school meals the healthiest meals children consume.

The comments were in response to a proposed rule USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) published Feb. 7 to update school meal standards, intended to take effect beginning with the 2024-2025 school year. This proposed rule is the latest step FNS has taken to update school meal standards dating to passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act in 2010.

The proposed rule continues to allow low-fat flavored milk in school meals, but potentially in a more limited fashion. FNS puts forward two different options for flavored milk in its proposed rule, requesting input on both options. The first would allow low-fat and fat-free flavored milk for either grades 6-12 or 9-12 only. The second would maintain current standards, allowing low-fat and fat-free flavored milk for all grade levels. The proposal also puts forward added sugar and sodium limits that will be phased into school meals in future school years, both of which could limit varieties of school milk, yogurt, and cheese that can be served in school meal programs.

Since 2010, multiple USDA rulemakings have intended to make school meals healthier, with NMPF working hard to ensure that changes don’t inadvertently reduce kids’ actual diet quality and nutrient intake. This includes NMPF’s leading role in getting USDA to reinstate the low-fat flavored milk option in school meal programs after its removal by a 2012 rule. NMPF’s work here includes working closely with Chairman GT Thompson, R-PA, and Representative Joe Courtney, D-CT, over multiple congresses on their School Milk Nutrition Act, which would guarantee that schools have the choice to serve any milk variety consistent with federal dietary guidelines.

To further support school meals, NMPF and IDFA submitted joint comments May 8 on the proposed rule, “Child Nutrition Programs: Community Eligibility Provisions – Increasing Options for Schools” supporting lowering the percentage of enrolled students certified for free school meals without submitting a household application from 40% to 25%. As noted in the preamble to the rule proposing the change, a study showed that schools that implemented the community eligibility provision (CEP) attained participation rates about 7 percent higher for lunch and 12 percent higher for breakfast, compared to similar schools that did not choose the provision.

Providing healthy meals to all students helps address longstanding inequities based on race, income and other factors that contribute to disparities of nutritional intakes and health outcomes.