For many of us, milk and dairy foods were the cornerstone of healthy eating while growing up. When I was a child, a glass of cold milk was a staple around my family dinner table, and I passed along the tradition to my own children. But a significant number of kids and families don’t have the same access to milk and other dairy foods, which means they are missing out on essential nutrients and many health benefits these foods provide.

In fact, one in six Americans — including 16 million children — faces hunger every day. According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, milk is one of the items most requested by food banks. At the same time, food banks often have trouble securing donations of milk and dairy foods.

Hunger is often compounded during the summer months, when millions of children nationwide who rely on free or reduced-priced school meals no longer have access to healthy foods at school. As an organization dedicated to elevating the health of children and families in California through the pursuit of lifelong healthy eating habits, we recognize we can’t carry out this cause if children and families don’t have access to dairy foods. That’s why Dairy Council of California collaborates with other dairy groups, government agencies and community organizations that share our commitment to improving food access for healthier children and families.

Dairy Council of California is one of several partners promoting the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, which offers free meals such as breakfast, lunch and snacks to children ages 1 to 18 while school is out. We’re also working with the California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family program, which aims to increase food banks’ supply of fresh produce and protein, including dairy foods. And we continue to ensure milk and dairy foods are available and appealing with programs such as the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, which shows school foodservice directors how to creatively and strategically display foods to encourage students to make healthier choices. These partnerships make us more effective than we could be on our own, and we encourage others to join us.

The benefits of ensuring access to healthy foods are expanded exponentially when students not only have access to healthy foods, but also receive nutrition education that teaches why healthy eating is so important. Nowhere is this more critical than in our schools, where Dairy Council of California has established strong relationships since 1919. In the classroom, Dairy Council of California’s free nutrition education curriculum teaches students at all grade levels about the importance of healthy eating patterns, which include milk and dairy foods. By combining the strategies of access and education, we can create a passion for dairy foods for generations to come. Most importantly, we help develop healthier families fueled for success.

When looking at milk access in schools, research tells us that school nutrition programs that include dairy foods can be effective tools to help children reach their full academic potential. Healthy and well-nourished children are more likely to attend class, be ready to learn, stay engaged and perform well in school.

At Dairy Council of California, we believe elevating the health of children and families will help create healthier communities when Californians have access to milk, dairy and other nutritious foods. By improving access, dairy producers and processors gain the opportunity to further community health and highlight the important value of milk and dairy foods as a cornerstone to healthy eating patterns.