New School Year, New Lunches

New USDA School Meal Regulations
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As students head back to the classroom, school cafeterias are debuting more nutritious choices for kids, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and school flavored milk that is lower in sugar and calories than ever before. In fact, this year marks the first full school year of the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) new school lunch regulations aimed at improving the health and nutrition of our nation's kids.  

The nation's milk processors have been hard at work over the past several years to lower the calories and sugar in school flavored milk, giving kids the taste they love while still maintaining all of its essential nutrients. The average calories in school flavored milk has declined by more than 21 percent over the past five years and sugars have been cut dramatically by 40 percent.  On average, school flavored milk now has 132 calories per serving. 

When Milk Declines; Nutrition Declines
At the same time schools are revamping their menus to boost nutrition, one of the most nutrient-rich beverages on the tray is facing a decline. School milk consumption declined for the third consecutive year, decreasing by more than 1 percent in just the last year alone, according to a recent national survey. Flavored milk is the most popular choice in school lunch rooms and research suggests students drink less milk when it is not offered – contributing to the detrimental decline in milk intake. 

"It's important that kids learn how to make food choices in the lunch room to develop skills that last a lifetime," said Carolyn O'Neil, MS, RD. "By providing a variety of nutritious and delicious foods – like fat free chocolate milk -- we're teaching kids good decision-making and ensuring that lunch doesn't end up in the trash. Taking away nutritious choices is really just counterproductive."

In fact, research suggests "choice" helps boost kids' overall intake of nutritious foods, and flavored milk is a nutrient-rich choice. All milk is packed with 9 essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium – all "nutrients of concern" according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. When kids skip milk at lunch, it's nearly impossible to meet the needs for these vital nutrients during the rest of their day.

"Simply put, when schools cut flavored milk, they also cut critical nutrients from students' diets," said O'Neil. "Flavored milk is really a win-win on the lunch tray. It's packed with 9 essential nutrients, but even better, kids love it."

Moms Believe in Nutritious Choices
For many moms, flavored milk on the menu represents an important choice for their kids. Four out of five moms (79 percent) believe kids need healthy choices at school including chocolate milk, according to a nationally representative survey, while three in four (77 percent) say they think their children should be able to choose which beverage to drink at school. Moms know they're teaching their kids good food and nutrition lessons by offering choices.

Research suggests flavored milk drinkers have more nutritious diets and do not consume more added sugars than non-milk drinkers, and studies show flavored milk contributes just 3% of added sugars to kids' diets compared to sodas and fruit drinks, which account for close to half of the added sugar and deliver much less, if any, nutritional value.5,6

The Right Start to the School Day
Even before kids reach the lunch line, starting the day with a good breakfast including nutrient-rich milk can help moms set their kids up for success. A good breakfast, with milk, gets kids off to the right start and has the fuel kids need to succeed.

Whether it's to be a rock star or rocket scientist, milk can help bring children closer to their dream. Visit the "Dream Big Sweeps" tab on facebook.com/milkmustache before September 16, 2012 and create a custom word cloud to help them visualize their dream and enter for the chance to win a $2,500 grant to help them achieve it.

To learn more about school milk, visit milkatschools.com.