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Got Milk? Mooo-ving dairy requirements forward in the NSLP

In recent years, there has been a growing concern about the nutritional wellbeing of children enrolled in schools across the United States. To address these concerns, lawmakers have introduced two new initiatives aimed at improving the diets of school-aged children and adolescents: The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2023 and the Addressing Digestive Distress in Stomachs of Our Youth (ADD Soy) Act. These initiatives aim to address different aspects of child nutrition, and while they share a common goal of promoting the health of our youth, they take vastly different approaches.

The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2023 is centered around expanding the available milk choices to students during meal service. Its main objective is to allow whole milk to be served alongside other milk options, like fat-free milk and 1% milk, which are currently the only options allowed under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Supporters of this act argue that whole milk provides essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, which are crucial for a child's growth and development. Detractors argue that continuing to push dairy products in Child Nutrition Programs is culturally insensitive, as many children of Latino, African American, Jewish, Asian, and Native American descent are incapable of digesting lactose without significant digestive distress.

Key Points:

  • Increased Nutrient Availability: Supporters argue that whole milk is an excellent source of 13 essential nutrients, including calcium and Vitamin D.

  • Choice and Flexibility: The act is seeking to promote choice, by giving students the option to choose flavored or unflavored whole milk, hoping to increase student participation in school meal programs.

The debate over offering whole milk as a beverage option in Child Nutrition Programs raises many important considerations. Firstly, concerns about lactose intolerance escalate, as there are many students who cannot tolerate dairy products. Adding whole milk as an additional beverage option may inadvertently exclude these children from receiving a nutrient-rich drink during meal service. Critics also worry about the higher levels of saturated fat in whole milk, which could help contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. Finally, the issue of food waste emerges, as forcing students to take milk during meal service inevitably leads to millions of dollars in food waste each year, given that many students do not consume it and simply throw it in the trash. 

The ADD Soy Act, on the other hand, focuses on addressing digestive issues that many children experience due to lactose intolerance or dairy allergies. It aims to include soy-based beverages in addition to traditional dairy products in school meals. Soy milk, being lactose-free and an excellent source of protein, is seen as a suitable substitute for those with dairy-related digestive problems.

Key Points:

  • Digestive Health: Supporters of the ADD Soy Act argue that soy-based products can alleviate digestive distress in children who are lactose intolerant or have other dairy-related sensitivities.

  • Diverse Protein Sources: This act encourages the inclusion of soy-based products, providing students with a broader range of protein sources.

  • Equity: The bill would remove the requirement that students must provide a medical note to receive a dairy-free milk substitute during meal service.

The introduction of soy-based alternatives in school meal programs has also raised hesitations. Firstly, there are concerns about soy allergies and sensitivities among students. Critics worry that these allergies could pose a significant challenge and will create additional work for menu planners to ensure the safety of all students. Another aspect revolves around taste and acceptance. Some argue that soy milk may not be as appealing to children as traditional dairy products, potentially leading to lower participation in school meal programs. The concern here is that if these alternatives are not well-received by students, it might undermine the overall effectiveness of the bill.

Impact on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

Both the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act and the ADD Soy Act have the potential to influence the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 by expanding the options available in school cafeterias. The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act could relax some of the restrictions on saturated fat content in dairy products, while the ADD Soy Act could support the diversification of protein sources, which aligns with the 2010 act's goal of providing well-rounded, nutritious meals. We at School Food and Wellness Group believe it's essential to strike a balance between promoting choice and maintaining the nutritional standards set by the 2010 act to ensure children receive balanced meals. As these initiatives progress, we will continue to provide updates to ensure your SFA operates the meal program compliantly.


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