Does Whole Milk Belong in Schools?
A new study challenges the low-fat/skim orthodoxy—plus more kid/food news!
Hello—and welcome to the second issue of my new kid/food Substack! (If you missed the first one, you can catch up here.)
Thanks to everyone who took the time last week to share feedback about The Lunch Tray’s new incarnation as a weekly newsletter. I’m so enjoying this new format and I’m delighted to hear you like it, too!
And I’m especially grateful to the many Early Birds who’ve already signed up for a monthly, annual, or (in one lovely 💕 case!) “Incredibly Nice Person” subscription! Your financial support of my work will allow me to keep this newsletter going strong.
OK, now let’s get to it!
Top Kid/Food News 🧒🏽 📰
A hot-off-the-presses new study has found an inverse relationship between children’s daily consumption of dairy fat and the incidence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. NAFLD is a serious and painful condition that’s on the rise among American kids, and while environmental factors can play a role, it’s strongly influenced by diet. (The new study was co-authored by Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer, a pediatric gastroenterologist, director of the nation’s first pediatric NAFLD clinic, and one of my interviewees in Kid Food.) The study’s findings are consistent with prior studies finding an association between whole fat dairy consumption among adults and a variety of health benefits.
Why is this important? Because the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (including the latest set, discussed here last week) recommend that children 2 years and older consume only low-fat or nonfat milk. The DGAs, in turn, underpin the regulations governing federal child nutrition programs, including school meals—which is why school cafeterias may only offer milk in one-percent and skim varieties. In recent years, there have been periodic efforts to overturn this ban on whole milk in schools, including citizen petitions, bills introduced in Congress, and lobbying by dairy farmers who are desperate to boost declining milk consumption. But unless and until the DGA’s change, such efforts will likely be an uphill battle.
Another item about dairy and kids: A recent Swedish study found that when moms drank more cow’s milk during breastfeeding, their children were less likely to have diagnosed food allergies by age one. The precise mechanism is unclear, but dairy’s saturated fat may play a role. US News & World Report has a write-up, including several appropriate cautions about the reliability of the study.
You may have read this troubling New York Times story last fall about child YouTube influencers making millions by promoting unhealthy foods and drinks to little kids. Yet teens, too, are quite vulnerable to online influencers, and Nation’s Restaurant News predicts more restaurant chains will be exploiting TikTok—the fastest growing social media platform in the world—to capture teens’ food dollars. But what about their health? When Dunkin’ recently renamed one of its iced beverages after Charli D’Amelio, a teen with over 100 million TikTok followers, the company saw a huge uptick in sales—as that many more teens downed a beverage containing 41 grams of sugar.
Chartwells, the food service management company, is under fire in the UK for supplying inadequate food parcels to needy schoolchildren during the pandemic. The parcels are supposed to supply families with £30-worth of food to last 10 days, but as one outraged mom proved, the components of her child’s meager food parcel could be purchased at a local grocery store for just £5.
The pandemic has “created the perfect conditions for kids to gain weight, and they have,” report two pediatricians in the Philadelphia Tribune. “Over the last few months,” they write, “our clinics have filled with previously healthy children who now have high blood pressure, elevated markers for pre-diabetes and diabetes, children who have purposely started to skip meals after noting their own weight gain and children for whom the extra pounds have translated into new onset sleep apnea.” (BTW, rising obesity isn’t inconsistent with rising food insecurity. Here’s a good explainer.)
Cafeteria Corner: School Food News 🍎 🏫
The School Nutrition Association just opened registration for its annual lobbying conference (March 8-10), normally held in D.C. but this year taking place virtually. The 55,000 member group of school nutrition professionals uses this meeting to unveil its new legislative agenda, and it will be interesting to see how its lobbying priorities (may) shift in light of Biden’s election and Democrats taking control of both houses of Congress. Stay tuned.
A new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior surveyed school food professionals about their experiences during the first weeks of the pandemic and their answers paint a grim picture. Respondents reported feeling a lack of support from their districts and states, serious worries about their personal safety, and lots of “exhaustion, fear, and stress.”
Due to the pandemic, the New Haven, CT school meal program faces a $4 million deficit by the end of the fiscal year, reports WSHU radio—but it’s hardly alone. Last fall, the SNA released a survey finding that the pandemic has caused “crippling financial losses for meal programs, with a harrowing 62% of school nutrition directors anticipating a loss for School Year 2020/21, and an additional 28% of respondents unsure of what to expect. Financial loss was the top concern cited by 93% of respondents in SNA’s survey.”
With all this bad news, this seems like the good moment to appreciate the heroic work of school nutrition professionals in keeping children fed—despite these unprecedented challenges. Here’s just one example out of thousands I could share, from the 4,000-student Boardman School District in Boardman, Ohio.
A recent report from Friends of the Earth focuses on three California schools "implementing a values-based, climate-friendly school food service model” that offers students 100 percent organic, scratch-cooked food. All three schools received financial support from Conscious Kitchen, a California non-profit, but even for districts with no outside funding, the report offers useful guidance on improving procurement, reducing waste, and saving money with plant-forward menus.
For Little Eaters—and Those Who Feed Them 👶 🥣
Katie Kimball of Kids Cook Real Food has a new (almost) TEDx talk out about the importance of teaching children how to cook. (Her real TEDx talk was cancelled due to covid, so she decided to film it on her own!)
Speaking of kids’ cooking, Well + Good has rounded up eight online cooking classes for kids (including one taught by Kimball) to help kids learn kitchen skills while staying busy during the pandemic. Two of the classes listed are free of charge.
Do you remember the wonderful “What to Cook This Week” column from Epicurious? It offered five-day, easy meal plans for a family of four, but it also included grocery lists and some genius-level plan-ahead strategies. Its author, food writer Debbie Koenig, is offering the same service in The Family Plan newsletter. You can learn more and sign up here.
For those with picky kids (or spouses!), dietitian and food writer Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition is offering a new ebook, Let’s Try New Foods!, replete with kid-friendly recipes and printables to gently encourage more adventurous eating. The program is based on her most recent book The 101 Healthiest Foods for Kids, which I reviewed back in 2018.
The Grown-Ups’ Table 🍸🍴
A few interesting food links that caught my eye:
Mark Bittman explains “Why Your New Year’s Diet Is Doomed.” Spoiler: you’re not the problem.
People (lots and lots of them!!!) are suing over the vanilla flavoring in food products.
A must-watch new Vimeo series for fans of Israeli food.
The secret to extra-delicious cornbread is . . . ground-up popcorn? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because the secret to my extra-delicious cornbread stuffing is . . . pulverized Fritos! Next Thanksgiving: Fritos plus popcorn bread! 🌽 🍿 🦃
Fritos aside, food writer Genevieve Ko offers thought-provoking reasons for resisting the impulse to improvise when we cook, urging us to instead follow recipes to the letter—particularly when preparing dishes from other cultures.
Are You Enjoying The Lunch Tray? Lock in a 20% Discount!
Just a reminder that The Lunch Tray newsletter is free for everyone until March 3rd, but if you subscribe now, you can lock in Early Bird rate of $4 a month—(less than one fancy Starbucks drink, people!) or $40 a year, forever! That’s 20% off the regular subscription rate of $5 a month or $50 annually.
Nonpaying subscribers will still be able to read this newsletter after March 3rd in a monthly, condensed digest that will lack some of the timeliness and breadth of the original weekly posts. But every now and then I may still send you a weekly dispatch—especially if something big is going on in the kid/food world. Because I’m nice that way. 🙂
Until Next Time!
OK, that’s it for this week! If you liked this newsletter, I’d be so, so grateful if you’d help me grow its readership:
And if you happen to work in the kid/food world and have something big going on—an article or op-ed you've just written, an innovation in your school food program, a new advocacy campaign or policy initiative, recently published research, or any other news or tidbits—I’d love to know about it!