IDFA recently defended the nutritional importance of milk and dairy products in school meal programs to the Institute for Medicine's (IOM) Committee to Review National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program Meal Patterns. In written comments and oral testimony, IDFA also stressed the need for school nutritional standards to be flexible while remaining consistent with the most current Dietary Guidelines.
The committee held a public forum on January 28 to receive input on the first of two reports stemming from its study of the nutrition and meal standards for school feeding programs. The Phase I report, released in December, explained the committee's anticipated approach for reviewing the nutritional requirements of the programs.
In its comments, IDFA urged the committee to consider the nutritional and economic benefits of milk and dairy foods, such fat-free or lowfat yogurt and reduced-fat or lowfat cheese, when setting nutritional standards for school meals.
"We believe that nutrient density is an important concept to encourage in the school meal programs, because a single nutrient-dense food choice can provide a variety of nutrients that are essential for health," the comments state. "The retail cost of nutrient-rich foods may be high compared to other, less-nutritious options, but the value of nutrient per dollar is excellent."
The standards must also be flexible enough for schools to provide high-quality nutritional foods that meet their budgets and that are popular with students, according to IDFA. Noting that flavored milk accounts for 70 percent of the milk sold in schools, IDFA quoted research that shows children who drink flavored milk will drink more milk and get more calcium, without increasing the intake of total fat or added sugars.
"Flavored milk provides the same nine essential nutrients as unflavored milk, including three of the five nutrients identified as 'nutrients of concern' for children in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – calcium, magnesium and potassium," the comments state.
Michelle Matto, IDFA assistant director of nutrition and labeling, attended the committee meeting and provided testimony on behalf of IDFA. Members with questions may contact Matto at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-737-4332.
The IOM study, which began in February 2008, is supported by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The committee's second report, expected to be released in October 2009, will outline key findings and provide nutrition recommendations designed to bring school meals more in line with today's Dietary Guidelines.
The National School Breakfast Program feeds 10 million children a day, and the National School Lunch Program feeds more than 30 million students. Each of these meals is required to offer fluid milk, and significant amounts of cheese and yogurt are also included in the programs.