CA: Dairy Nutrition in Schools in the Time of COVID-19

Pamela Anderson-Wise California Dairy Council

As summer comes to a close and the new school year begins, COVID-19 continues to have an impact, especially within the school community as many students, teachers and families start with distance learning.

Pamela Anderson-Wise

To support educators, Dairy Council of California developed a Nutrition Resources for Online Learning landing page, along with an informative blog that outlines the free, turnkey science-based nutrition resources available to seamlessly integrate nutrition with distance learning, hybrid and in-person education models. Step-by-step tutorials are provided to help teachers with lesson integration using platforms such as Google Classroom, Seesaw and Zoom.

In addition to online options for teaching nutrition, schools are seeking solutions to feed students this school year. Nutrition greatly impacts the health and well-being of people across their life span, yet millions of children and families struggle to access healthful foods. The nonprofit Feeding America projects that some 18 million children in the United States could be food insecure in 2020, which translates to an increased need for food access through federal food programs.

Each year, federal school meal programs serve more than 31 million lunches and 17 million breakfasts, with the vast majority of students coming from low-income households and relying on school meals for nourishment. With school closures, from March through August, the federally funded summer meals program provided all children with access to healthy meals at no cost. As the new school year begins, foodservice staff must find ways to serve nutritious meals under the federal guidelines with minimal resources and uncertain food delivery to schools.

Despite best efforts, eligibility rules have created a significant drop in participation in school meal programs. Some school district meal services are reported to be as low as 10% of prior year participation. That means millions of children may be going hungry, unable to access the healthful foods they need to be adequately nourished. Many organizations, including the School Nutrition Association and No Kid Hungry, are requesting that USDA allow schools to continue providing free meals for all students as they have been doing since March 2020.

Earlier this month, Dairy Council of California hosted a town hall webinar to help school nutrition service professionals learn about another approach to feeding families. Riverside Unified School District is the only district in the nation to serve as a distributor for the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which purchases fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products from American producers to be packaged in family-sized food boxes and distributed by food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The webinar features school district Food Hub Coordinator Scott Berndt, who shares some of the challenges and benefits of the food box program and offers insight into the application process to help encourage other school districts to apply.

With the school foodservice industry deeply impacted by COVID-19, the food box program is critically important because it offers school nutrition service programs a unique and much-needed opportunity to source a new revenue stream to help fund operations while providing food security for children and their families. This is also an opportunity for the dairy industry because, while overall school milk purchases may be down, school districts would be able to support local vendors and farmers by purchasing milk, butter, cheese, fruits, vegetables and meats as part of the food box program.



Dairy Council of California would like to thank the dairy community for its ongoing support of the important nutrition education and food access services we provide. It is because of this support that we are able to help ensure all children—especially those living in vulnerable communities—gain the skills to build healthy eating patterns and have access to nutritious foods for optimal growth and development, academic success and positive health outcomes. We invite you to encourage local school districts to apply for the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which is currently accepting proposals for its third round of food box purchases. If approved, school districts can receive combination boxes starting September 1, 2020, to help families living in their community access fresh produce, milk and dairy foods, and meat products.

At Dairy Council of California, we believe that all children and families deserve access to healthy, wholesome foods like milk and dairy foods and should be supported to grow healthfully. We are living in an unprecedented time and in an environment that continues to change. As the school year unfolds, we will adapt, innovate and remain steadfast in our commitment to our cause and values in order to empower healthier communities on behalf of the dairy industry.



Editor’s note: The author is the CEO of the Dairy Council of California headquartered in Sacramento. She may be contacted at or 877.324.7901.

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