As a Registered Dietitian (RD) who has dedicated 30+ years of work and volunteer life to child nutrition, I believe flavored milk has a place in school meals. Disclosure: I am proud to work with the National Dairy Council and regional dairy councils, including Western Dairy Association. However, all the opinions here are my own. This blog was first published as Guest Blog: No Need to Remove Flavored Milk.
First, the facts about today’s flavored milk in schools: This is not the chocolate milk served ten – or even five – years ago. Dairy processors have responded to nutrition concerns and continually renovate their products.
- From 2006 to 2014, calories in the flavored milk served at school decreased by nearly 28 percent to 120 calories per 8 ounces. This is only about 35 more calories than fat-free white milk.
- The most common fat-free chocolate milk served in US schools has 120 calories, no fat or saturated fat, and only 18 grams total sugar. That’s 12 grams of lactose and just 6 grams – 1½ teaspoons of added sugar – per 8 ounces. It’s important to remember that all milk has 12 grams of natural sugar(lactose) straight from the cow!
Secondly. the real nutrition issues: While some US children are getting too many calories for their activity levels, many are under-nourished. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans listed four nutrients of concern for both children and adults: calcium, vitamin D, potassium and dietary fiber. Our low consumption of these nutrients can affect our health today and in the future.
Just like white milk, flavored milk provides three of the four nutrients of concern – all of them except dietary fiber. All types of milk are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D, and good sources of potassium. All are nutrient-rich beverages, packed with many other nutrients kids need for strong bodies – protein and phosphorus, along with vitamins A, B12, riboflavin and niacin.
Banning flavored milk could potentially lead to a small reduction in calories consumed by kids at school. However, it also can have serious unintended consequences as documented in the recent study of 11 Oregon school districts. When flavored milk was removed, total daily milk sales declined by nearly 10 percent. Although white milk sales increased by 161 cartons per day, almost 30 percent was thrown away. Eliminating chocolate milk was also associated with about 7 percent fewer students eating school lunches.
I am not surprised by these results. They confirm previously published studies and the experience in many cafeterias. Flavored milk bans do all the wrong things in child nutrition programs. We need more nutrient-rich food for hungry students, more students who are well-nourished and ready to learn – and fewer expensive-to-replace nutrients dumped into trashcans.
Finally, working together to improve nutrition in schools: There has been a revolution in school nutrition programs across the USA, but we have still have plenty of work to do, especially in low-income, at-risk communities.
- Want kids to consume less sugar at school? Let’s provide nutrition education for families (lots of sugar is brought to cafeterias from home). Let’s implement USDA’s Smart Snacks in School rules and shift the focus toward smarter choices everywhere on school campuses. Flavored milk is not the most significant source of added sugar in children’s beverages by a long shot. Soft drinks, sport drinks and juice drinks have more sugar and fewer nutrients.
- Want students to drink more white milk? Forget bans. Let’s institute positive nutrition and culinary education into the curriculum, Let’s use smart marketing techniques to make white milk the more convenient choice at the front of milk coolers. Let’s not put nutrient-rich milk in the garbage and throw important nutrients out with misplaced concerns about small amounts of sugar.
- Want healthier kids, schools and communities? Let’s put our passion for child nutrition toward effective partnerships on positive ways to improve access to delicious nutrient-rich at school and at home. Let’s look for ways to get kids active before, during and after school with programs like safe routes to school and active recess. Fuel Up To Play 60 is great way to bring nutrition and physical activity to schools – along with grants to purchase equipment and training to implement sustainable changes.
Let’s stop wasting our time, resources and food on negative nutrition campaigns. Let’s work together to make the learning connection for all children – because we know that healthier students are better students.
I live in Oregon and twins in kindergarten. Boy do I disagree with you. I don’t care how the nutritional profile of chocolate milk has changed. The problem with serving flavored milk at school is simply that it is sweetened and therefore contributes to conditioning our kids to craving sweetness. These days EVERYTHING is sweetened for no reason — bread, crackers, even peanut butter. I’m fine with, say, ice cream being sweet — it’s ice cream, for heaven’s sake, and I’m fine with treats on occasion. But offering 5-year-olds a daily treat with lunch? That makes no sense. I assume you’ve read “Salt Sugar Fat” by Michael Moss. That book explains well how the food industry has conditioned us to want our foods sweeter and sweeter, and we all know what the consequences have been. Also, that chocolate milk study is deeply flawed. It lasted one year! How about we ban chocolate milk for 5 years and see what happens? It’s going to take well over a year to shift American kids’ skewed taste preferences. My boys’ school offers chocolate milk every day. That is one of the (many) reasons I do not allow my kids to buy lunch at school.
Thanks for taking the time to write. I completely support your decision to not allow your children to have chocolate milk – and to nourish them as you think is best. We have very different views on nutrition for children – and I respect yours. Dayle
Dale, thank you so much for this post. I’m a registered dietitian and the Nutrition Director for a district of about 2800 students in Maine. I have recently fought (and won to some degree) to keep flavored skim milk in my schools. This blog and talking points you presented helped me a lot as I went to present this to my Superintendent, community, and School Board. I agree with you in everything you have posted and feel very strongly that a little bit of added sugars is a fair trade off to make a nutrient dense product more palatable to the age group that benefits the most from this. The current meal pattern supports age appropriate calorie levels, portion sizes, and nutrient dense products. I feel that this focus, rather than a focus on a particular nutrient, or micro-nutrient, will have the greatest impact on a healthy lifestyle, success in life, and supporting Learner excellence.