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Alternatives to Cow's Milk in School Lunch
- The National School Lunch Act requires that schools participating in the National School Lunch Program always offer cow’s milk.
- Generally, schools do not offer nutritious, nondairy beverages, such as fortified soymilk or rice milk. Schools have the option to provide nondairy beverages that are nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk with a written request from a parent, legal guardian, or physician. However, schools that decide to provide these healthful alternatives are at a disadvantage; the USDA does not provide enough reimbursement for these items and the school must absorb the extra cost.
- The USDA does not require children to take or drink milk, although it is encouraged for children in grades K through 8.
- Because of the widespread but incorrect belief that milk is essential for good health, food service staff will often require that elementary school children take milk. Food service staff is taught about the value of milk by training sessions provided by the USDA and through free “educational materials” donated by the Dairy Council.
- In high schools, the Offer Versus Serve (OVS) policy must be used in order for meals to be reimbursable. OVS requires that students are offered a minimum of four items for breakfast and five for lunch, but are only required to take three. This policy was implemented to prevent the problem of plate waste when students are forced to take food that they do not want.
- In grades K through 8, schools may use OVS, but local school food authorities are permitted to impose further requirements. Children in grade schools are often pressured to take milk.
- A problem with OVS as it stands is that while children may refuse milk, they are almost never offered a nutritious replacement.
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