Long before American businesses committed to corporate social responsibility, dairy farmers set the precedent for purpose-driven work by producing a product that nourishes youth and families. As CEO of GENYOUth, I am proud to lead the public charity, founded by America’s dairy farmers and the NFL, whose mission is to help school children thrive by living well-nourished, physically active lives.

Good nutrition is proven to foster health and academic achievement, with research showing that breakfast is linked with numerous health and educational benefits — including improved academic performance, increased school attendance, more focused classroom behavior, and better dietary intake. As most school-aged children fall short of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommended 3 servings of daily dairy, schools are critical to helping students consume healthy meals which contain essential nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, and potassium from dairy.

Underscoring dairy’s importance to school meal plans and budgets, a Nutrition Today study on the implications of eliminating flavored milk in the Jefferson County, Colorado School District found that it would require 3 to 4 additional foods, resulting in more calories and fat, to replace the nutrient deficit from this decline in milk consumption, a cost increase of up to $4,600 per 100 students per year.

School meals matter to farmers because:

  • 3.8 billion pounds of dairy (milk [including flavored milk], cheese, and yogurt) are used in school meals annually.
  • 30 million students participate in USDA’s school meal program daily.
  • School-age children consume more dairy at school than through any other home or away-from-home occasion.
  • 77% of daily milk intake for low-income children ages 5 to 18 comes from school meal programs.
  • A recent Tufts University study indicated that the healthiest meals for children are school meals.

With the support of dairy farmers and other purpose-minded funding partners, and in collaboration with state and regional dairy checkoff organizations, we’ve made critical strides in nourishing children while growing dairy consumption to fuel young minds and bodies. We do this by providing microgrants and turnkey solutions that:

  • Reduce barriers to school meals. Our Grab and Go school meal equipment grants overcome school breakfast barriers including lack of time and stigma associated with school cafeteria breakfast. Research indicates that this model is a gold standard, and through GENYOUth’s program we’ve seen increases in participation by up to 27%, compared to the national average of about 1% each year.
  • Improve school meal appeal. Students love smoothies, a USDA-approved menu item. Smoothie programs help increase participation by up to 25%. A recent smoothie pilot saw an increase in dairy volume by 30%, with 47% of students saying they are more likely to choose a school meal if smoothies are included. We are now scaling this proven solution to additional schools across the country.
  • Educate students on where food comes from. GENYOUth’s Adventure Capital program gives students opportunities to learn where food comes from, including visits to local dairy farms.

“The connection between dairy and school meals is critical in nourishing students and growing dairy consumption. Schools are anchors for students’ nutrition security. Our partnership with GENYOUth is important in helping dairy deliver fresh and healthy products to tens of millions of students every day,” said Audrey Donahoe, a fifth-generation New York State dairy farmer who serves as chair of the National Dairy Council.

We raise our glass to celebrate America’s Dairy Farmers, especially during June Dairy Month, and the important role dairy plays in nourishing our nation’s children to ensure they have the opportunity to be their best selves!

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
June 19, 2023

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