Dairy and School Meals
Milk is an essential component of the school meal pattern.
Why? It provides students with nine essential nutrients for their bodies and brains. Milk is also a great source of high-quality protein, helping students stay fuller longer.
So what is the problem? Students are not getting in enough milk – in fact, they are more than 1 cup short each day. Over the course of a year they are missing out on calcium and vitamin D they need to build strong bones. Make sure all students have a positive dairy experience at school and milk is served cold, even to the last person in the meal line.
Learn more about dairy nutrition.
Cheese and Yogurt
Learn more about cheese and yogurt
Cheese, Cottage Cheese, and Yogurt meet the Meat/Meat Alternate requirement for Child Nutrition Programs. School lunch equivalents are referenced in the USDA Food Buying Guide.
Vegetarian Menu Option
Cheese and yogurt can fulfill the meat/meat alternate component for vegetarian entrees. It can be as basic as cheese pizza, a veggie sandwich with cheese, ½ cup cottage cheese, or an 8 oz yogurt (regular or Greek). Or get a little more complicated with bean and cheese burritos, cheese quesadillas or cheese lasagna. All of these can meet the meal pattern requirements.
Cheese on the School Menu
Cheese fits in all parts of the school day
- Breakfast: A slice of cheese is great on a breakfast sandwich
- Lunch: Cheese pizza, cheese stuffed breadsticks, cheeseburgers, turkey and cheese sandwich, cottage cheese cup, macaroni and cheese; so many favorites! Cheese goes with Mexican, Italian, Greek, and American foods!
- Grab ‘n go: A wrapped cheese stick or cheese cubes are an easy meat alternate item to add to a meal.
- Field Trip/Sack lunches: A wrapped cheese stick is easy to include in a sack lunch.
Yogurt on the School Menu
- Parfaits: layers of yogurt, fruit, and cereal make an easy breakfast or lunch component. Four ounces of yogurt with a cup of total fruit and 1 grain serving of cereal makes an easy breakfast with a milk. Create a build-yourself parfait bar. Allow students to serve up a parfait with the flavors of their choosing. Post this sign for students to use 1 scoop per item or post this sign if they use 2 scoops per item.
- Fruit and yogurt smoothies are becoming very popular in schools.
- School Meal Recipe ideas from the National Dairy Council.
Milk is the only required food in the School Meal Program. Choices to offer are 1% or fat-free white, and 1% or fat-free flavored milk. The required serving size is 8 fluid ounces. For a few years, 1% flavored milk was not allowed in schools. For the 2017-2018 school year, a waiver from the State is available to serve it. Flexibility for the 2018-2019 school year allows 1% flavored milk to be offered in school lunches, breakfast and Smart Snacks. It can also be offered to children 6 years and older in the Child Care and Adult Food Program and Special Milk Program. 1% flavored milk is back and students are excited!
Are all beverages created equal? No. Think Your Drink
Needing guidance to improve the health of school meals? Use the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard to see where the program can improve.
Why is milk so important in the School Meal Program? Read more in the Fluid Milk in School Meal Programs report
Hot Chocolate milk is a perfect beverage on a cold day and it can count for the fluid milk requirement! Use this poster to advertise this special beverage. Directions for heating the chocolate milk are available.
American Academy of Pediatrics statement on Sugar Sweetened Beverages in Schools
Chocolate milk for Athletes
USDA memo allows 1% flavored milk for students 6 and older for the 2018-2019 school year.
Teen calcium gap
Teen girls have increased need for calcium, but their intake typically goes down at this age. Learn more about the importance of bone health and calcium.
Keeping milk cold
Kids love cold milk! Strive for a milk temperature of 35°F at all points of meal service. Receive it cold, keep it cold in storage and serve it cold. Be prepared for hot summer days and keep milk cold.
Cold milk stays fresh longer. Did you know the shelf life of milk is reduced 50% for every 5-degree rise above 40°F? Evaluate your school’s milk handling procedures and equipment with this milk quality checklist.
Proper equipment is crucial to maintaining proper temperatures. Check out our equipment vendor partners
Special Milk Program
The Special Milk Program provides milk to children in schools, child care institutions and eligible camps that do not participate in the Federal child nutrition meal service programs.
Learn more about USDA resources for this program.
Milk Allergies and Schools
Severe food allergies that hinder a major life activity (eating) are considered disabilities and must be accommodated in the school meal programs based on a medical statement form from a licensed physician. Milk is one of the eight most common food allergies.
USDA Regulations and guidance were updated July of 2017. Michigan Department of Education has further clarification. Careful documentation and planning is needed to address these issues. Please contact the Michigan Department of Education for specific questions.
Resources for managing food allergies in schools:
Farm to School/Milk is Local
Milk is a leading segment of Michigan’s agriculture industry, with over 1,500 dairy farms located throughout the state. There are nearly 90 processing plants in Michigan. Many dairy foods are made right in state with milk that comes from Michigan farms. From their farms to the grocery store, the journey of milk takes just 48 hours.
Milk: From Farm to Table nutrition education materials
Go on a Virtual Farm Tour through Discovery Education.
Honor the Harvest Infographic
Promote Milk on Cafeteria Menu
Ice cold milk is great to feature on the menu. Parents like to know milk is fresh and local and can be purchased a la carte with a packed lunch. Use menu graphics to highlight your menu. Right click and “save as” the images below.