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NMPF Protecting Dairy in Schools

March 2, 2023

NMPF reacted positively to a proposed USDA update of school meal standards, applauding its support for low-fat flavored milk while also protecting against efforts to restrict access to the full current range of milk types offer to students.

NMPF has a long history of strong advocacy for robust nutrition programs, recognizing dairy’s unique ability to provide a dense and complex nutrition profile at one of the most affordable rates around. NMPF has been especially active in ensuring healthful dairy products can continue to be served in national school breakfast and lunch programs, with dairy playing a crucial role in ensuring kids have access to the vital nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Milk is the top source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D for children ages 2-18.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) on Feb. 7 published a proposed rule to update school meal standards. FNS intends for the final version of this rule to take effect for the 2024-2025 school year and apply it to all years moving forward. This proposed rule is the latest step FNS has taken to update school meal standards, a movement which started with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act in 2010.

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.

After low-fat flavored milk was allowed back in schools, NMPF continued it work to protect dairy in school meal programs, ranging from filing formal comments with FNS to working behind the scenes with the House and Senate committees responsible for child nutrition programs. NMPF was pleased to see low-fat flavored milk allowed in school meal programs in both the 2022 House Democratic child nutrition reauthorization bill and USDA’s 2022 final bridge rule on school meal standards through the 2023-24 school year.

The latest proposed rule also 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 option would allow low-fat and fat-free flavored milk for either grades 6-12 or 9-12 only. The second option would maintain current standards, allowing low-fat and fat-free flavored milk for all grade levels. The proposed rule 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.

NMPF issued a joint statement with IDFA on the proposed rule, thanking USDA for continuing to allow 1% flavored milk in school meals and noting that we will carefully review other provisions in the rule to assess their impact on kids’ access to healthful dairy foods, including the added sugars and sodium limits. NMPF plans to file comments on the proposed rule by the April deadline and continuing to coordinate with IDFA on school meal standards efforts and outreach.