Low-fat flavored milk will be back in schools around the country next school year due to USDA’s new School Meal Flexibility Rule, which reinstates that option.
USDA eliminated that option in 2012, allowing only nonfat flavored milk and low-fat and nonfat unflavored milk in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.
Dairy groups are applauding USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue for following through on his proposal earlier this year to allow schools the option, saying loss of that option resulted in a significant decrease in milk consumption in schools.
While total fluid milk consumption in schools in 2016 is estimated at 402 million gallons or 3.4 billion pounds, based on USDA data, it had dropped by 288 million half pints in 2015 compared with 2011, according to International Dairy Foods Association and National Milk Producers Federation.
That represents a 4.2 percent decrease of about 144 million pounds, nearly 17 million gallons, despite growing enrollment and the option of nonfat flavored milk.
USDA’s action “will help reverse declining milk consumption by allowing schools to provide kids with access to a variety of milk options, including the flavored milks they enjoy,” Michael Dykes, IDFA president and CEO, said in a press release.
Perdue’s willingness to provide greater flexibility to schools recognizes that a variety of milk and other healthy dairy foods is critically important to improving nutritional contributions of child nutrition programs in schools, Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, said in the press release.
“The math here is quite simple: More milk consumption equals better nutrition for America’s kids,” he said.
Having a small amount of fat in the milk helps with mouth-feel as well as satiety, Chris Galen, NMPF senior vice president of communications, told Capital Press.
“The issue isn’t just flavored milk; schools are offering that now. It’s the combination of the flavor, usually chocolate, plus the 1 percent fat level that makes it more popular than either fat-free flavored, or 1 percent white milk,” he said.
The other thing to keep in mind is that offering 1 percent flavored milk is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for America, which recognize that such a product will help children meet their daily nutritional needs without making significant contributions to their sugar or fat intake levels, he said.
Under current rules, schools would have to demonstrate either a reduction in student milk consumption or an increase in school milk waste to be able to offer low-fat flavored milk.
The two organizations said they appreciate Perdue’s understanding that the regulatory process needed to move quickly so schools can include the option in their menu planning and procurement processes.
Publication of the new rule will allow school districts to solicit bids for low-fat flavored milk this spring, giving milk processors time to formulate and produce a product that meets the specifications of particular school districts, they said.
The new rule also allows states to grant exemptions to schools experiencing hardships in obtaining whole-grain-rich products acceptable to students. It also gives schools more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals.
The new rule goes into effect for the 2018-2019 school year.