Milk: What’s in School Lunches?

September 15, 2011

Sending kids off to school sparks major concerns for parents, especially the nutrition they will receive during lunchtime

School lunches - in particular the beverages - and specifically - what's going on with milk is a concern and issue not only for parents but for the dairy industry as well. The Lempert Report interviewed Dr. Tanya Remer Altman, a leading medical authority, mom, a best-selling author, and parenting expert. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and communicates complicated medical issues into easily understood concepts. Parents probably know what their kids are eating for breakfast and dinner, but do they know what their children are getting for lunch? Typically, kids get about half of their calories while at school. And this year there are a lot of changes in school lunches.

TLR: What’s going on in our schools related to milk and beverages?

Dr. Tanya: Well we know that children get 30 – 50 percent of their nutrition while they are in school, so that’s a large portion of their nutrition. Calcium and milk and other dairy products are a very important part of a child’s daily nutrition. So there are many changes coming to the school lunch line this year, including more fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, more lean meats, and milk will be non-fat or low-fat- white milk or flavored milk. I think a lot of people don’t realize that milk, whether it’s plain or flavored, have the same nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium, which kids really need during these critical growing years. All considered nutrients of concern for children across the country.

TLR: What’s your take on flavored milk?

Dr. Tanya: Well the diary industry has been hard at work over the last five years trying to come up with a flavored milk with less sugar, less fat and less calories. When kids go back to school this year, the new flavored milk will have only 31 more calories than white milk. The formulation is 38 percent less sugar than five years ago, and each carton of flavored milk will have under 150 calories. The most common a non-fat flavored milk with 130 calories. We know that when kids skip out on the serving of noon-time milk they really don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D for their growing bodies.

TLR: Earlier this year the dietary guidelines “called out” for more vitamin D. Why are children and adults deficient in vitamin D?

Dr. Tanya: Well, vitamin D you can get from the sun, but we're all very good now about covering up when we get in the sun. The best nutritional sources of vitamin D is milk, but unfortunately many kids these days are not getting many of the nutrients they need across the board. They are not getting enough fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and milk and other dairy products.

So as a pediatrician, I’m helping to try and spread the word to parents, school districts and more that children really need more nutrient rich, nutrient dense foods. We have a childhood obesity epidemic on our hands now – kids are getting too many calories but not enough nutrients. By getting three servings a day of milk or other dairy products you can get almost all of the calcium and vitamin D that you need.

TLR: What about products with “added calcium” i.e. orange juice and sodas. Are they a good replacement for milk?

Dr. Tanya: Milk is really the best way to ensure that children get their calcium and vitamin D. So if you’ve had your three servings a day of milk and other dairy products, and you're looking for other sources of dairy products, then including some of the other sources are fine, but I would not recommend that children drink them as their primary source of calcium.

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