America’s dairy producers recognize schools as a key opportunity to promote healthy eating and increase milk and other dairy product consumption, both at school and throughout a lifetime. Today, our nation’s children spend nearly a third of their day at school – and eat at least one meal at school. That’s why dairy producers, through their checkoff, invest in programs to reach kids at school through cafeteria, classroom and after-school programs.

"Improving the school milk experience for the nation’s 48 million school children is the most important priority of dairy promotion’s childhood nutrition initiative," said Paul Rovey, an Arizona dairy producer and chairman, Dairy Management Inc.™, which manages the national dairy checkoff program. "Research tells us that people who consume milk and dairy products as children are more likely to consume milk and dairy products as adults."

Through the New Look of School Milk (NLSM) program, producers are making great progress to increase milk consumption among kids by providing white and multiple flavored milk in plastic bottles that is served cold and is available on the school meal line, à la carte line and through milk vending. Currently, more than 2,700 schools (representing more than 2 million students) offer milk in plastic bottles, compared to the roughly 400 schools that offered milk in this new packaging during the 2003-04 school year.

According to Rovey, NLSM works because it’s giving kids the product – and the package – when, where and how they want it. He points to a recent checkoff-funded study of 300 school-aged children who were shown the same product in plastic bottles and paper cartons. Results indicated that 94 percent of children preferred the plastic bottle over the paper carton. More importantly, 67 percent of children who participated in taste tests indicated milk from the plastic bottle had "better flavor."

Reaching Students Beyond the Cafeteria
In addition to improving children’s milk-drinking experience at school, dairy checkoff investments work to educate students in the classroom about healthy choices.

The National Dairy Council® (NDC), the nutrition research and education arm of the dairy checkoff program, develops and distributes nutrition education materials for the classroom. New programs for the 2005-06 school year include Little D’s Nutrition Expedition™ for second-grade classrooms and Arianna’s Nutrition Expedition™ for fourth-grade classrooms. These programs meet school health and language arts curricula requirements through interactive lessons, online games and homework activities that engage kids.

"The program teaches kids healthy eating habits that include dairy and encourages kids to keep moving with physical activities," Rovey said. Local dairy council staffs are distributing these classroom materials to more than 60,000 teachers in the nation’s largest school districts. Program materials also are available at www.NutritionExplorations.org.

Extending the School Day
The checkoff program doesn’t stop working when the bell rings. When the school day is over, producer-funded programs are encouraging healthy after-school snacking – including dairy – and physical activity.

The NDC is a founding member of Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK) a nationwide initiative dedicated to improving the health and educational performance of children through better nutrition and physical activity in schools. AFHK and the National Football League® are partners in an after-school program called "ReCharge! Energizing After-School", which local dairy councils are implementing in school districts across the country.

Launched in September, ReCharge! reinforces the valuable life skills of healthy eating, physical activity, teamwork, and goal setting through up-out-of-your-seat, hands-on activities. Participating students also receive after-school snacks, including milk, cheese or yogurt.

The program engages students through a football-themed program that uses fun, non-competitive activities framed as play rather than exercise or classroom learning. Geared toward boys and girls in grades 3 – 6, the program uses football metaphors and materials like youth footballs and playing-field cones to teach kids about eating healthy.

"After-school programs are growing in demand due to parents looking for supervised, organized activities after school," Rovey said. "Dairy producers are on the playing field thanks to our investment in the checkoff. Through these school programs, the dairy checkoff offers us producers a long-term value for our investment."

For more information about checkoff-funded programs, visit www.dairycheckoff.com.

DMI