The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week released its final rule on guidelines for which beverages that can be considered a substitute for milk in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

In its standards on milk substitutes in school meals, USDA said other beverages must meet the nutritional value of milk. “This is an important win for the milk industry because it recognizes the important nutritional contributions of milk beyond calcium,” said Michelle Matto, IDFA assistant director of nutrition and labeling. “IDFA strongly advocated for this requirement of nutritional equivalence.”

Beverages that could substitute for fluid milk, such as soy beverage or fruit juice, will be required to be nutritionally equivalent to whole milk with regard to calcium, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin B-12 content. Currently there are no soy beverages that provide all of these nutrients at the same level as milk.

In addition to setting nutritional standards for the substitutes, the final rule also defined the process for requesting a substitute for fluid milk. For a student to be eligible to receive a substitute beverage at school, the child must have a disability, medical need or special dietary need that does not allow him or her to drink milk. For a disabled child, this need must be declared through a doctor’s note. For a non-disabled child, a written request for the substitute must be made by a medical authority or the child’s parent. In addition, the school must notify its state agency if it plans to offer substitute beverages for non-disabled children.

USDA also made statements that supported lactose-free milk as the beverage of choice for lactose intolerant children, although it was not included as part of the regulations. Lactose-free milk already is allowed in the school meal programs, and documentation is not required for a student to receive lactose-free milk instead of regular milk. USDA indicated that “there is no need to offer a fortified milk substitute to a student whose medical or special dietary need is lactose intolerance.”

The rule goes into effect Oct. 14.

For more information, contact Michelle Matto at or 202/737-4332. To read the final rule, visit