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Alternatives to Cow's Milk in School Lunch
- Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program must offer cow’s milk as part of the reimbursable meal for breakfast and lunch. Current nutrition standards now require that only fat-free (flavored or unflavored) and 1% (unflavored) milk be provided.
- Schools can provide non-dairy milk as long as it meets the set protein standards. Students who request non-dairy milk out of preference no longer have to get a medical note, but do have to get a guardian note. The requirement for a medical note due to a disability is still in place. This does not mean that schools have to serve the student non-dairy milk. However, schools that decide to provide these healthful alternatives are at a disadvantage; expenses incurred when providing non-dairy milk that exceed program reimbursements must be paid by the school.
- 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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