Why Plant-Based Milk Options Belong in UK Schools
September 27, 2023
Today, 27 September, is World School Milk Day – a globally recognised day that celebrates school milk schemes across the world.
In the UK, dairy milk has been served daily in schools since 1906, when the Provision of Meals Act sought to provide free school meals for all children. The act ensured that children had access to food and milk in order to try and prevent malnutrition, as many families at the time were unable to provide a well-balanced meal at home. Over a century later, a portion of milk is still provided each day to UK school children – but is it really necessary?
A call for more inclusive menus
When it comes to school food, it’s important to offer diverse menu options that respect and cater to children’s varying dietary needs and preferences. Schools today are more diverse than ever, with a wide range of factors influencing food choices. In the case of dairy, for example, an increasing number of children are steering clear of animal-based dairy products for health, environmental, and ethical reasons. By introducing plant-based milk alternatives such as almond, oat, or soya, schools can ensure that every child has access to nutritious, delicious, and sustainable food options. It’s not just about meeting nutritional needs – it’s also about creating a welcoming, inclusive environment in which every pupil is catered to, and feels valued.
Dairy intolerance and allergies
Statistically, dairy doesn’t agree with everyone. Worldwide, about 68% of people are lactose intolerant, and nearly 5% of people have a specific allergy to cow’s milk, with the figure being notably higher among children. Failing to provide non-dairy alternatives to cow’s milk means that many children are effectively excluded from school milk schemes, since they are usually just offered water instead. While keeping children hydrated is something we very much encourage, this may lead to some children feeling excluded as they watch their peers enjoy a glass of milk. Most plant-based milks are also fortified with essential vitamins and minerals in order to provide optimal nourishment.
Thrise of plant-based milk alternatives
Plant-based milk alternatives are no longer niche products that are enjoyed only by people following a plant-based diet. With the European market for dairy alternatives now worth an estimated 1.6 billion euros, and around a third of the British population drinking plant-based milk at least once a week, demand for these drinks is higher than ever. Offering plant-based milks in schools would not only alleviate dairy-related health concerns, but would also align with the growing shift towards more sustainable and ethical food choices.
Plant milk is better for the environment
Animal agriculture, which includes dairy farming, is a key contributor to the climate crisis. On average, a litre of cow’s milk generates about 3 kg of CO2 emissions, compared to less than 1 kg for plant-based alternatives. With half of the British public now acknowledging the environmental impact of their milk choices, it’s clearly time to provide more sustainable alternatives to dairy in UK schools.
This World School Milk Day, we need to think about the future of school milk schemes. With increased awareness of dietary needs and a pressing need for more sustainable food choices, it’s time to make our school milk programmes more inclusive by offering greater choice. To achieve this, we need to embrace more plant-based options, thus ensuring that all children feel catered to without compromising on their nutritional needs.
And that’s exactly what we’re doing through our School Plates programme, which helps thousands of schools across the UK to create healthier, more sustainable, and more inclusive menus through the provision of plant-based options. You can read more about the remarkable work being done by the School Plates programme here.
This World School Milk Day, let’s acknowledge the changes we need to make, and work towards a future in which every child feels catered to when the lunch bell rings.
Looking for some extra help?
If you’re a school caterer and would like to include more plant-based dairy alternatives on your menus, please get in touch with us on [email protected] to find out how we can help you – free of charge! We also have several online cooking workshops coming up, which you can sign up for here.