Dairy farmers have held an established place in schools for decades delivering the message of how quality nutrition, including dairy, impacts children’s health and wellness needs.

CEO and President / Dairy Management Inc.

Make no mistake – a lot of dairy moves through the school channel. In 2022, 3.8 billion pounds of total dairy were served for breakfast, lunch and summer feeding programs, with most of that being fluid milk (3.4 billion pounds).

Yet, we continue to see a decline in milk consumption and an increase in competing food and beverage options. This is occurring as kids are experiencing a growing disconnect from farming.

Checkoff-led research shows dairy consumption among youth is an issue that stretches far beyond the school building. It starts at home where a younger generation of parents who, based on a negative school milk experience or some other nutrition or environmental concern, may have begun distancing themselves from the dairy category and are now directing their family’s nutrition plan.

And because the post-pandemic world is dramatically different, the checkoff needs to think differently to protect farmers’ ability to deliver long-term health and wellness benefits to children both in and out of schools. While the checkoff maintains its strong presence in schools, we need a comprehensive youth strategy that encompasses a life-stage approach. This includes opportunities to work with those young parents to show them dairy plays a pivotal role for their family, including before their child is born.


Transitioning to Fuel Up

The start of this school year marked an evolution of the checkoff’s youth strategy. Perhaps most notably, we streamlined Fuel Up to Play 60 to a more focused Fuel Up effort, designed to showcase dairy foods and dairy farming more directly. This includes a change in our partnership with the NFL to a no-cost collaboration where we will look for opportunities that make sense to both sides.

The NFL and dairy farmers worked as a powerful one-two punch these past 13 years, producing the nation’s largest in-school health and wellness program. The NFL brought its star power to the table providing more access to schools, while state and regional checkoff teams provided the nutrition-based credibility through a network of talented dietitians and decades of research led by the National Dairy Council (NDC).

The secret sauce was the dairy farmers who gave their time to visit schools and put a face on farming for thousands of kids who had no idea where their school milk truly came from.

While Fuel Up to Play 60 established a powerful legacy farmers should be proud of, today’s kids are much different than those we encountered when we started the program. Schools and teachers also have changed how our children are taught, and increasingly, teachers are turning to digital-based tools and resources.

Fuel Up will allow the checkoff to work with more partners, including dairy processors, cooperatives, sports leagues, and health and wellness organizations.

No entity is equipped to transform the school milk experience single-handedly, but we have more than a fighting chance when we stand together.

The checkoff’s school strategy goes beyond the cafeteria and into the classrooms where children are forming early opinions on animal agriculture and farming. This is where a dairy-focused curriculum program that national and local checkoff teams are leading holds great potential.

We are working with school leaders to build this program emphasizing the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) aspects of dairy farming. Starting last year, the checkoff coordinated farm visits for teachers in several states for a full immersion experience to learn the many STEM-related activities dairy farmers practice every day.

This will provide the information necessary to create a STEM curriculum to be implemented in several states by early 2024 and help set the record straight on the longtime commitments dairy farmers have to responsible production while growing awareness about the efforts it takes to produce food for a growing population.

Beyond the school walls

The checkoff is building knowledge of dairy’s benefits among expecting and new parents by working with three of the largest online health organizations where they seek information – EveryDay Health, What to Expect and Healthline. Through these credible partners, checkoff can reach an audience of interested parents with science-based information on dairy’s benefits for brain health and cognition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

NDC also is focused on deepening relationships with pediatricians, OB-GYN doctors, social media influencers and health organizations parents trust to provide accurate information and resources around dairy nutrition, so they are getting the right information at the right time in their child’s life.

These are just some examples of how the checkoff is evolving our youth strategy to remain relevant to young people who are deciding what they will consume and to parents who are making the call on what they will feed their family.

It takes a surround-sound approach to protect and enhance dairy’s relevancy with youth and their parents in these ever-changing times. The checkoff is answering with a fresh approach — new innovative products, partners and content that drives sustained results to not only keep dairy in the game but ahead of it.

To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit the website, or to reach us directly, send an email.

Your Dairy Checkoff in Action – The above update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America's dairy farmers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.