Flavored milk may be making a school lunch comeback

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is working to bring back 1 percent flavored milk to the National School Lunch and School Breakfast program. It was eliminated from the plan in 2012.

milk dairySince then, most schools have been able to offer only fat-free—including nonfat chocolate milk—and lowfat unflavored milk in school meals to better align with U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional guidelines and recommendations of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

School nutrition requirements cost school districts an additional $1.2 billion in 2015, according to the USDA. While school meal program costs increased, most states reported a decrease in student participation in school lunches, and about 1 million students opted out of a school-provided lunch.

“This announcement is a result of years of feedback from students, schools and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations in school meals,” Perdue explained. “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition—thus undermining the intent of the program.”

It’s unclear when the change might be implemented, but American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown is unhappy with the decision. She said loosening up nutritional requirements for school lunch programs to include 1 percent flavored milk could have serious health consequences for children, increasing obesity rates.

A representative of Virginia’s largest farm advocacy group disagreed. “Milk is healthy for all people, especially growing children, and if adding some flavor is a way to ensure children drink it, this is a plus,” noted Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

“Most children consume far more sugar in their diets than the negligible amount found in a small carton of milk served in a school cafeteria,” Banks explained. “While some may say this is a way for dairy producers to push more of their product, it’s really about making sure children are consuming milk and not throwing away needed protein, vitamins and minerals. This new policy will reduce food waste in schools and make more efficient use of parents’ and other taxpayers’ money spent on school lunches.”