Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week announced a new proposal for updating nutrition requirements for school meals served in federal feeding programs. Acknowledging the nutrition contributions of dairy foods, the proposal maintains fluid milk and dairy products as important components of all school breakfasts and lunches, but some new mandates could affect the types of dairy products available.
All schools are expected to implement the changes to federally funded meals beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 30 million students, or about half the student population, eat school lunches every day, and 10 million eat school breakfasts daily.
Leading up to this decision, IDFA has worked proactively with administrative officials in the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and on Capitol Hill to demonstrate how milk and dairy foods would fit into the updated school meal requirements. Last year, IDFA members donated products and conducted briefings to highlight research and development initiatives and successes in reformulating popular school items, such as chocolate milk and cheese pizza.
USDA Requires Variety of Fluid Milk
Consistent with IDFA's position and the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, USDA will continue to require a variety of fluid milk to be served with every lunch and breakfast, including both low-fat or nonfat. Flavored milk would also be allowed in nonfat varieties. Also consistent with IDFA's position, USDA did not place limits on calories, sodium or saturated fats in individual foods but proposed guidelines that would apply to the overall school meal menu. Although yogurt and cheese would still be included as meat alternates for all meals, the proposal could affect which dairy foods the schools select in order to meet the new overall limits on calories, sodium and saturated fat.
Sodium limits would be reduced by 50 percent over the next 10 years, with intermediate goals for sodium content set for earlier years. These lower limits could potentially impact the use of cheese in the school meals. However, IDFA and some members have worked with USDA to encourage the agency to allow a variety of new types of cheeses, including more reduced-fat and lower-sodium types. IDFA members have also been working with schools and food manufacturers to reformulate kid-friendly foods like cheese pizza so that they will easily meet the updated meal standards.
The proposed rule also leaves in place the requirements for non-dairy fluid milk substitutes to provide a wide range of nutrients found in milk. As under current regulations, substitute beverages are for students with medical or special dietary needs and must contain the nine nutrients for which milk is the number-one source in children's diets.
2010 Dietary Guidelines Expected This Month
The proposed rule follows closely a report from an Institute of Medicine committee that made nutrition recommendations for school meals in 2009. The proposed rule would bring the regulations for school lunches and breakfasts in line with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but it did ask for comments on how to align meals with the upcoming 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which are expected to be released by the end of this month.
Comments on the proposed rule are due by April 13, 2011. The full proposed rule can be read here.
IDFA's Nutrition Working Group will be discussing IDFA's response to the proposed rule on a conference call scheduled for next week. Members who would like to be involved in this discussion may contact Michelle Matto, consultant to IDFA on nutrition and labeling, at email@example.com.