Students are back to school, and whole milk might be next. For more than a decade, whole milk has been absent from cafeterias participating in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, stemming from concern over its higher fat content compared to reduced-fat options. To reverse the ban, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act has been introduced with bipartisan support, and what it all really boils down to is consumer choice.

Director of Membership and Marketing / Animal Agriculture Alliance

Rep. Abigail Spanberger has said, “trays full of skim milk are going straight into the trash can” and taking away whole milk means some children are “skipping milk and its nutritional benefits altogether.” The National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program must meet federal nutrition requirements and align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which currently recommend low-fat or fat-free milk. However, according to U.S. Dairy, “current evidence indicates dairy food consumption, regardless of fat content, is not associated with risk for cardiovascular disease” and “the growing evidence base supports reassessing the role of full- and reduced-fat dairy foods in healthy eating patterns.” Unfortunately for some children, school meals are the only guaranteed meals, so providing healthy options that meet children’s nutritional needs and preferences is critical for building a foundation for healthy eating habits for years to come.

Some argue inviting whole milk back to the menu should be determined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, while others say children shouldn’t have to wait for the next round of recommendations in 2025. However, Congress isn’t the only body attempting to influence the school lunch menu. “Climate-friendly” school meals are expected to be unveiled at this year’s United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP28). New York City Mayor Eric Adams tried to implement “Vegan Fridays” in 2022, but with USDA guidelines requiring public schools to serve milk, New York City schools are instead hosting “Plant-Powered Fridays.” Adams is a vegan himself and often touts the claimed health benefits of a vegan diet. When asked about the initial policy, he said, “I’m thrilled to see that all students will now have access to healthy foods that will prevent debilitating health conditions.” This is far from the truth as milk provides 13 essential nutrients and is also the number one food source of calcium, vitamin D and potassium for Americans ages 2 years and older.

Menu debates don’t end after high school graduation. Rochester Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin – Madison are the latest colleges to announce commitments to “plant-based” offerings on their menus by 2025. These commitments have been made in collaboration with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) directly or as part of its partnership with food service company Sodexo. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) started Students Opposing Speciesism, an effort paying individuals $60 for each animal rights protest they host on their college campus. The Humane League started Student Alliance for Animals providing students with resources to “veganize your dining hall.”

These are just a few examples of how animal rights groups are influencing college students to go vegan and pressuring campus dining halls to limit menu options while promoting misinformation about animal proteins and animal agriculture. To ensure students passionate about animal agriculture have the tools and resources they need to share their perspective, the Animal Agriculture Alliance founded College Aggies Online – a scholarship program helping college students become confident communicators for animal agriculture.


Students – both in K-12 and beyond – should have the choice to eat foods that align with their nutritional needs and preferences. We can have a range of options that include fruits, vegetables and grains alongside meat, milk, poultry and eggs. One food preference should not be forced on all. That is the beauty of our diverse agriculture community – farmers and ranchers can meet a diverse palate of consumer demands, and consumers have affordable, healthy options that meet their budgets and values.

Agriculture and food communities along with consumers of all ages must be engaged with school and campus leaders to ensure food is on the menu that more than just a very small minority of the population wants to eat. I don’t have a crystal ball to see if whole milk will go back to school, but I believe we can count on continued pressure from animal rights organizations and those with a clear agenda to limit or remove animal protein options from the menu.