Dairy Packs a Protein Punch

Friday, November 16, 2012

Headlines abound about the new school meal guidelines, which took effect at the start of this school year. At the heart of the hype are cafeteria meals that, in many schools, look quite different this year than they did last year. Portions of some foods have increased (fruits and vegetables) while others have decreased (meats and grains). Double portions are not allowed, but students must include on their trays certain types of foods to make the meal complete.

While school nutrition departments are working very hard to adhere to these federally-mandated guidelines in order to serve healthy meals and receive the maximum available financial support for their programs, some students are leaving the cafeteria feeling less than satisfied. Some students simply do not like the new, healthier options, while some are complaining that the smaller portions leave them hungry and fatigued by the afternoon. The good news is that there are options for students that taste great and will help keep them alert and energized all day long.

Dairy foods are usually recognized for being an excellent source of nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, but a key component of dairy's package of nine essential nutrients is protein. Research has shown that satiety (the feeling of fullness following a meal) is greatly influenced by protein intake, and at least 30 grams of protein may be the right amount to help keep us feeling full until the next meal.

A school lunch that meets the new guidelines contains about 26 grams of protein, an adequate amount for what should be about a third of a student's daily food intake. However, students who are finding that the new school lunch is just not enough to keep them going through the day should grab an extra milk carton on their way through the line. The 8 grams of protein found in each serving of school milk is well worth the extra quarter students will pay for it. Other satiety-inducing dairy options are yogurt cups, string cheese, and cottage cheese, which are often available for purchase as "a la carte" options outside of the regular school meal.

The perfect combination of tasty and healthy, all of these dairy foods are enjoyed by students of all ages. Best of all, they pack a protein punch that will help keep students full and focused through the last bell.

A great way to make sure students are ready to learn is to start the day with a nutritious breakfast. Gather and prepare these ingredients the night before for a stress-free and healthy morning.

Pleasin' Yogurt Breakfast Parfait

Yield: 1 serving

Prep Time: 5 min


1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

1/2 cup crunchy low-fat cereal or granola, divided

1/2 cup fresh fruit, sliced (i.e. strawberries, blueberries, pineapple)


To assemble parfait, begin with 1/2 cup yogurt in the bottom of a bowl or tall glass. Add 2 tablespoons cereal and 1/4 cup fruit. Repeat. Top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cereal.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 460

Fat: 6 g

Calcium: 40% Daily Value

Protein: 17 g

Cheesy Egg Scrambler

Makes 1 Servings

Prep Time: 3 min

Cook Time: 3 min


1/2 whole-wheat pita bread

2 large egg whites

1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat mild Cheddar cheese


Toast pita; set aside. Spray small skillet with non-stick cooking spray. Heat over medium heat 20 to 30 seconds. Scramble egg whites and cheese in preheated skillet until egg whites are set and cheese is melted. Fill pita pocket with eggs and cheese; serve.

Tip: Kick up the flavor with zesty cheese or add chopped mushrooms, onions, or green peppers to egg whites before scrambling.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 150

Fat: 6 g

Calcium: 20% Daily Value

Protein: 16 g

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