Milk provides more calcium and protein per penny than any other food served on school lunch programs, say researchers from Kansas State University. Their findings were published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Researchers examined the nutrient contributions of five common meal components of school lunches: an entrée, milk, vegetable/fruits, grains/bread, and condiments such as ketchup, mustard and salad dressing. Nutrient analysis of the foods served from two different elementary school districts was then compared on cost. The results revealed that milk contributed the most calcium and protein per 100 calories and per penny.

“This new research reinforces the tremendous contributions milk makes at lunch, said Rachel Johnson, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Vermont. “I have found through my past research that children who have milk with their meal get more nutrients and increase their calcium intake compared to those who don’t.” And missing out on milk now — during their key bone-building years — could put children at risk for developing osteoporosis later in life.

She also recommends flavored milks, such as chocolate, strawberry or banana, since they contain all of the same nutrients as regular milk and have half of the added sugar found in soft drinks and many juice drinks.

“Milk group foods are an important part of daily school lunches and help parents get the most nutritional value for their dollar" said Ann Marie Krautheim, registered dietitian for the National Dairy Council. "Not only does milk provide calcium and protein, but it also offers seven other essential nutrients including vitamins A, B-12 and D, potassium, riboflavin, niacin and phosphorus."

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