New York Ag Commissioner Darrel Aubertine and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently delivered a one-two pitch to U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. Aubertine urged that the Empire State be chosen for a newly announced pilot program testing Green yogurt cost-effectiveness in school meal programs. He also encouraged USDA to amend the protein crediting standards to better reflect Greek yogurt's nutritional value.
Governor Cuomo added that, "As the nation's leader in Greek yogurt production, New York is the natural fit to be selected to implement this pilot program. New York State is eager to demonstrate that serving delicious Greek Yogurt in our cafeterias will both improve the health of our children while helping our schools save money – a real win-win."
While USDA hasn't yet responded to the proposal, Tristan Zuber, Cornell University's regional dairy processing extension associate based in Batavia, N.Y., calls it a smart move for kids and the dairy industry. "Including strained Greek Yogurt into the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program is a way of showing that the United States means business when we are talking about eating healthier," says Zuber.
"Greek yogurt contains all essential amino acids or proteins, is available in low or non-fat forms, and often contains live and active cultures. Yogurt manufacturers have also done a great job in making flavors that are delicious and can be targeted towards kids. Zuber appears in this CBS Sunday Morning feature on the Greek yogurt boom.
New York State now produces more than 13% total yogurt production in the United States. USDA's pilot program would be part of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, which provide meals in public and private non-for-profit schools.
The state is already primed to conduct the program. Through the State Food Policy Council and Farm to School Program, New York has demonstrated the expertise and infrastructure necessary to implement the program.
Strained Greek yogurt offers higher nutritional benefits than unstrained yogurt with less sugar, carbohydrates, sodium and lactose as well as an increase in protein per ounce, explains Zuber. If USDA recognizes the higher protein content for strained Greek yogurt, schools offering strained Greek yogurt could save up to 20 cents per four-ounce cup. That would be a win for school children, New York and the state's dairy farmers, she concludes.