WASHINGTON – The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) submitted comments May 10 to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding proposed changes to federal child nutrition programs. IDFA said the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) should include more nutritious dairy food options.

IDFA put forward that the programs should align with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), and encourage increased consumption of milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products. The organization cited data from a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report, which found in 2020 that 68%-76.2% of school-age males and 77.4%-94.3% of school-age females failed to meet recommended levels of dairy.

The organization’s comments also called for USDA to encourage consumption of DGA compliant, unflavored and flavored milks and yogurts, and suggested that providing lactose-free milk and other dairy products with low lactose content will allow more school children to find nutritional options.

Nutritional standards such as those in place for saturated fat, added sugar and sodium, IDFA added, should permit an increased consumption of dairy products, rather than limit dairy products that are included in federal child nutrition programs.

“School meals are already a nutrition success story,” said Joseph Scimeca, IDFA’s senior vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs. “These meals are a key source of nutrition for children, and they are often the healthiest meal of a child's day because they provide a variety of nutritious foods and beverages like dairy, fruits and vegetables. Dairy products provide 13 essential nutrients that children need for growth, development, healthy immune function, mental health and overall wellness, yet most children do not consume enough dairy to meet federal dietary recommendations. IDFA is urging USDA to expand dairy options that appeal to and provide good nutrition to children of all backgrounds when they finalize school meal nutrition standards.”

Additionally, IDFA maintained its position that offering nutritious flavored milk options with less added sugars for grades K-12 will further help students reach their nutritional needs. The organization pointed to the recent Healthy School Milk Commitment, in which dairy processors that supply US schools committed to added sugar content of no more than 10 grams per 8 fluid-oz serving of flavored milk by the 2025-2026 academic year. IDFA announced the pledge in April on behalf of 37 milk processors and subsidiaries representing more than 90% of the school milk volume in the US. 

“Flavored milk products such as chocolate milk offered in schools today contain an average of 8.2 grams of added sugar per serving, which is fully consistent with the latest federal DGA and ahead of current school meal nutrition guidelines established by the USDA,” Scimeca said. “These options provide the same 13 essential nutrients as unflavored milk, reduce plate waste and encourage greater meal participation. With the Healthy School Milk Commitment, USDA and schools should feel confident about offering nutritious non-fat and low-fat flavored milk options in grades K-12.”

The entirety of IDFA’s submitted comments to USDA can be found online at the IDFA website.