In comments submitted today, IDFA reinforced the important role that dairy products play in school meals and recommended additional ways to help students meet nutritional requirements set by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Specifically, IDFA called for allowing low-fat flavored milk, in addition to fat-free flavored milk, with a limit of 150 calories per cup; recognizing drinkable yogurt, along with yogurt and cheese, as a meat alternate; and making reduced-fat and lite cheeses more available in schools.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released in January its proposal for updating nutrition requirements for school meals served in federal feeding programs, including the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The comment period ends today.
"IDFA and our dairy processor members are proud that milk and milk products are important components of school meals in the past, present and the future," IDFA said in its comments. "However, in order to encourage increased consumption of these products, as recommended in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we believe that there are some changes necessary to the proposed rule to allow students access to the important nutrients provided by dairy products."
Allow Low-fat Flavored Milk in School Meals
Consistent with IDFA's position and the 2010 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 fat-free. Flavored milk would only be allowed in fat-free varieties. IDFA believes strongly that offering low-fat flavored milk along with fat-free flavored milk can help children maintain and increase milk consumption.
"The majority of milk consumed at home is either whole (29.5 percent of milk) or reduced fat (36.8 percent)," the comments stated. "To increase consumption, the milk at school must be as well accepted as the milk that students drink at home."
IDFA highlighted recent efforts by many milk processors to develop reduced-fat, lower-sugar, lower-calorie milk products especially for the school market. At least 75 percent to 80 percent of processors now make these products with only 150 calories per eight-ounce serving, IDFA estimates.
Extend Sodium Reduction Timeline
The proposed rule also aims to reduce sodium levels in foods by 50 percent over the next 10 years, with intermediate goals set for earlier years. In the comments, IDFA called for an extension to give schools and manufacturers time to adjust to the new limits. IDFA also asked USDA to exempt naturally occurring sodium in products required for meal reimbursements, such as fluid milk and vegetables, as another way to help students meet nutritional requirements.
All schools are expected to implement the changes to federally funded meals beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. USDA reports that 30 million students, or about half the student population, eat school lunches every day, and 10 million eat school breakfasts daily.