The Need for Alternatives to Cow’s Milk in the National School Lunch Program
The National School Lunch Act requires that schools participating in the National School Lunch Program always offer cow’s milk in order to receive federal reimbursement.
The 2004 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act and National School Lunch Act allows schools the option of offering nondairy milk products to students with a parents note, as long as the nondairy milk substitutes are nutritionally equivalent to fluid milk. However, the USDA will not cover any price difference for the substitutes and schools generally do not offer other calcium sources, such as soymilk or calcium-fortified juices on a daily basis due to the increased cost. Children in these programs are denied the choice to consume these healthy beverages.
Concerns About Cow's Milk in School Lunches
Numerous scientific studies link the consumption of cow’s milk to obesity, anemia, ear infections, constipation, respiratory problems, heart disease, and some cancers. Due to the dangers of dairy product consumption, cow’s milk with added lactase, such as Lactaid milk, is not a suitable alternative. And as people of ethnicities other than Caucasian are typically unable to digest dairy protein, relying on dairy products as the sole source of calcium in child nutrition programs favors children of Northern European descent. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians’ 2002 report on lactose intolerance, 60 percent to 80 percent of blacks, 50 percent to 80 percent of Hispanics, 80 percent to 100 percent of American Indians, 95 percent to 100 percent of Asians, and 6 percent to 22 percent of American whites are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance, which is sometimes apparent as early as age 3, causes flatulence, cramping, diarrhea, and bloating after eating dairy products.
- Flavored milks, the milk of choice for children and teenagers, contain unhealthy amounts of sugar. In fact, chocolate and strawberry milks contain as much or more sugar than soda.
- Protein intake through the NSLP far exceeds a child's Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein. This is undesirable because consuming too much protein causes calcium to be pulled from the bones and excreted through urine.
- Lunches served in both elementary and secondary schools exceeded the NSLP standard for calories from total fat and saturated fat. Milk can contribute up to 9 grams of fat and 6 grams of saturated fat in just 1 cup, while fortified soymilk is low in fat and especially low in saturated fat. Offering a soymilk option could help schools meet these NSLP guidelines.