The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) has commended the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for highlighting the nutritional role that dairy products play in the final regulations governing the reimbursable school meal programme that has been released.
However, the Association expressed concern that restrictions on flavoured milk could reduce overall milk consumption in schools in favour of less healthy alternatives.
The USDA rule for reimbursable meals will put in place the provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which Congress passed in late 2010. The act aims to improve the quality of all foods and beverages offered in schools and to align school menus with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
It requires schools to offer 8oz of fluid milk with each school lunch and breakfast, but only low-fat and fat-free plain milk and fat-free flavoured milks are allowed.
The new rule includes yogurt and cheese as meat alternates for meals and identifies lower-fat and lower-sodium cheeses available to schools. It also allows for five-day averaging for calorie caps, saturated fat and sodium, so schools will retain flexibility for incorporating cheese, pizza and other foods containing dairy into weekly meal plans.
“We applaud the strong support of dairy as a vital component of a healthy diet and appreciate the priority attention USDA has given to improving the foods and beverages served in our nation's schools,” said Connie Tipton, IDFA president and CEO. "However, we are disappointed that USDA has placed limits on milk varieties ahead of constraints on competing beverages widely available today."
To date, USDA has not issued rules governing these "competitive foods", so milk will continue to face tough competition from other a la carte beverages sold at schools until USDA completes the rule-making process. Those proposed rules are slated for release early this year.
"Eliminating low-fat flavoured milks, which kids like, and still allowing a wide variety a la carte beverages like juice beverages, sports drinks and soda at schools will reduce milk consumption," said Tipton.
Milk consumption in schools has declined among children and teens, and research shows that much of this decline is attributed to the wide availability of other beverages at schools. When beverages other than milk, 100% juice and water are offered, total milk consumption at school drops 9% to 28%.
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