There’s No Need To Ban Flavored Milk From Schools

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.

Gonzales Unified, Monterrey (CA) Home-style Chile Verde, Beans, Rice and fresh local tortillas

Monterrey (CA) Home-style Chile Verde, beans, rice and fresh local tortillas

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.

Lake Stevens (WA), Customized 'Power Bowls' with fresh, local produce

Lake Stevens (WA), Customized ‘Power Bowls’ with fresh, local produce

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.

Dear Katie Couric: Let’s Do School Lunch

Dear Katie Couric,

My friends and I would like to invite you to lunch in some very trendy, very healthy – but clearly undiscovered – dining rooms around the country. We heard your recent Good Morning America comments that “50% of school districts serve junk food for lunch, fast food for lunch. Kids are getting terrible choices.” We are delighted to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth.

The real news about school lunch is that 30+ million students enjoy amazing choices every day. Thanks to the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, dedicated school nutrition professionals and thousands of health, nutrition and community partners, kids now have access to a truly amazing variety of:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, sometimes organic, often local or even ‘hyper-local’ – straight from school garden
  • Whole grains, including quinoa, brown rice and other gluten-free options, as well as freshly baked whole wheat rolls and whole grain pizza crusts
  • Lean proteins like hummus, black bean salad and grilled tofu, boat-to-school salmon in Alaska and Montana beef for Montana schools
  • Delicious dairy products, such as Greek yogurt parfaits, berry smoothies and artisan cheeses, in addition to low-fat/fat-free milk at every meal

But, please don’t take our word for it. Come see the amazing variety and taste the deliciousness that is school lunch in America today. We’re so sorry that the Fed Up researchers did not dig deeper into the revolution in schools meals (breakfast, lunch, snacks and suppers) growing in thousands of districts.

School Nutrition Professionals make daily salads. El Monte City Schools, California (May 2014)

El Monte City Schools, California: School nutrition professionals make daily salads (May 2014)

Here are a few tasty tidbits showing how well fed our children are in schools today:

  • USDA Farm to School Census: In USDA’s most recent survey (SY 2011-12) schools invested $354,599,266 in local economies by purchasing local foods.
  • National Farm to School Network: More than 1,000 local food champions recently met in Austin to celebrate and ‘power up’ for expanding programs.
  • USDA HealthierUS School Challenge: 6,730 schools in 49 states and DC have met rigorous nutrition and physical activity criteria for these awards.
  • Food Corps: This nationwide team of 140 passionate service members and fellows in 108 sites connects kids to real food to help them grow up healthy.
  • Chefs Move to Schools: Hundreds of chefs now work in school programs, as directors, leaders and regular volunteers to train staff and energize kids.
  • Salad Bars Move to Schools: 1.7+ million students are eating up produce packed into 3,400+ new salad bars donated to schools from coast to coast.
  • CIA Healthy Kids: The nation’s top chefs offer culinary resources to schools so they can continue serving tasty, appealing, nutritious food to children.
  • Vermont FEED: This is one example of regional efforts with a nationwide reach to provide nutrition education and culinary training to schools.
Portland Public Schools (OR): Local grilled Asparagus on Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (May 2014)

Portland Public Schools (OR): Local grilled Asparagus on Whole Wheat Pizza Crust (May 2014)

Many of us have admired your work for years – and now we would like to share ours with you! Lunch is on us – we just want you to see, and more importantly taste, the amazing changes being served up in America’s school kitchens and dining areas.

You name the date and location – and we will be there to show you how hard School Nutrition Association members work to ensure that children are well nourished and ready to learn!


Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Nutrition for the Future, Inc.
Billings, MT 59102

MOBILE:    406-698-8868  
FACEBOOK: School Meals That Rock                                                                TWITTER: @SchoolMealsRock                                                                                  



Rockin’ School Meal Photos: Post It, Pin It, Tweet It, Eat It (2 of 6)

In the wide world of social media, great photos of school meals are not an option – they are necessary for maintaining satisfied customers. Eye-catching photos are just a click away on your SmartPhone – IF you focus on SIX ELEMENTS every time you take a school food photo. To get you ready for School Nutrition Employee Week, May 5th thru 9th, we’re focusing on one element each day. Be a HERO, take a great PHOTO.

STEP #2: QUALITY. Honestly, if you are not proud of the food quality in your program, do not take a photo of it. Always start with high quality products that are as fresh as possible. Like the mantra for food safety, when taking school food photos, make sure that hot food is hot and cold food is cold.

THE GREAT: The quality of this lasagna lunch from Windham-Raymond, Maine (RSU#14) is apparent before you learn the back story. The noodles and tomato sauce are made in the school kitchen with local grass-fed beef – and the basil, greens, apple and milk are all local (some from the school garden). Director Jeanne Reilly works with a part-time district chef and Chefs Move to Schools to plan, grow, prepare and serve extraordinary meals – and it shows!

Housemade Lasagna (including the noodles) with local greens, apple and milk

Housemade Lasagna (including the noodles) with local greens, apple and milk

THE MARGINAL: This grab-n-go chicken salad is a great concept and it has some wonderful fresh ingredients. Sadly, the wrinkled tomatoes detract from the freshness, as does the bruise near the apple stem. (This photo also has problems with lighting, which we will discuss soon!)

Wrinkled tomatoes ruin the entire presentation.

Wrinkled tomatoes ruin the overall quality of the presentation.

THE REAL NO-NOS: This might be a delicious meal and very popular in some schools. Unfortunately, the lack of fresh produce (even the apple looks tired) and the limited colors make it unappealing to the eye. White styrofoam trays themselves make it hard to take good photos and they are an environmental ‘hot button’ in some communities.

Lack of fresh produce and limited colors make quality questionable.

Lack of fresh produce and limited colors make quality questionable.

HOT TIP: Want to see the highest quality school meals and photos in action? Visit the School Meals That Rock PINTEREST page, where from Windham-Raymond, Maine (RSU#14), and Provo, Utah, Schools, both have boards.

And, remember best way to take better school food photos is practice, practice, practice. 

Reflections on Revolutions, Reynoldsburg and Rosemary

Food Revolution Day 2013

Food Revolution Day 2013

Today is Food Revolution Day 2013 and I’ve been pondering Jamie Oliver’s quote and my visit to a Reynoldsburg, Ohio, elementary school this week. Actually, I completely support Mr. Oliver on every sentiment in theses sentences. I too want children to know about growing food, cooking recipes, enjoying meals and nourishing their bodies well. But, even more than all these things, I want every student to be fed and ready-to-learn.

In a middle America, lower-income (62 percent free/reduced eligible), ethnically diverse elementary school this week, I saw a school breakfast that exceeded USDA guidelines, but one that might make Jamie Oliver cringe: heat-n-serve mini-waffles in a pouch, fruit juice and milk, much of it flavored. While food purists might wish for steel cut oats, local fruit and unflavored milk, I watched 400+ children grab breakfast in less than 10 minutes, quietly settle into morning classroom routines, and throw almost nothing into trashcans.

Breakfast in the Classroom

Breakfast in the Classroom

While there wasn’t the time, the space or the resources for nutrition perfection, there was an absolute commitment to serving children nutrient-rich calories so that they could focus, concentrate and learn. And, universal breakfast in the classroom at Slate Ridge Elementary is clearly working since it has been named a “School of Promise” by the Ohio Department of Education for three years in a row. This award recognizes high performance in schools with at least 40 percent economically disadvantaged students.

And Jaime, I can assure you that the breakfast offerings themselves are radically different than what might have been served 10 or even 5 years ago – thanks to a combination of food activism, federal regulations, and industry reformulations. Those mini-waffles were 100% whole grain, low-fat, trans-fat-free, and moderate in sugar and sodium. The juice was 100% orange and the flavored milk was fat-free with 10 grams of sugar (less than 3 teaspoons) per 8 oz. Admittedly, not nutrient nirvana – but balanced nutrition for hundreds of young children who might have otherwise had to listen to their stomachs growl instead of focusing on their teachers’ voices.

Are other schools serving meals more in line with today’s culinary trends and foodie ideals? Absolutely, there are schools that make breakfast smoothies with non-fat yogurt and spinach and others that bake whole grain muffins from scratch. Provo, Utah, serves yogurt parfaits and fresh fruits for breakfast – and just this week posted pictures of rosemary chicken made with “hyper-local” herbs grown in their own high school greenhouse. While I frequently praise Provo and other cutting-edge districts for their culinary excellence, I also admire every step that districts like Reynoldsburg are taking to insure that every child has access to breakfast every day. Sometimes we have to serve our revolutions one-step at a time or in the wise words of Teddy Roosevelt “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Once you have the basics in place – like breakfast for every child, every day – then you can make improvements one delicious, fresh, local step at a time.

Rosemary Grown-in-a-School Chicken

Rosemary (Grown-in-a-School Greenhouse) Chicken

School Meals Rock Nutrition Trends: Michigan Team Nutrition Feeds New Palates

What’s up next on School Meals That Rock? Trends, trends and more trends! I always look forward to the April issue of Food Technology magazine from the Institute of Food Technologists, where Contributing Editor, A. Elizabeth Sloan takes a perceptive and creative look at the top trends in food. In 2013, Sloan named the #1 trend “A Repositioned Palate,” highlighting how American’s are enjoying more complex flavor profiles and bolder flavors like as tangy, smoky, herbal, sour and bitter. She also notes how foodies are savoring their eating experiences defined by freshness and distinctive flavors.

April 2013, Food Technology Top Tend Trends

April 2013, Food Technology Top Tend Trends

School nutrition programs all across the country reflect this trend with new flavors and new recipes, culinary boot camps and junior chef competitions. Michigan Team Nutrition and Chef Dave Mac have been at the forefront of this trend for years – offering chef trainings, quantity cookbooks and even a YouTube recipe channel. Chef Dave knows a lot about combining flavor and nutrition on a school nutrition budget with recipes like Sweet Thai Chili Chicken, Turkey Florentine Wrap and Whole Grain Fiesta Rice.

Layers of flavor and nutrition in a kid-approved menu

Layers of flavor and nutrition in a kid-approved menu

The good news is that you can access the Michigan Team Resources and use them in your own program:
The Whole Enchilada, Holland Chef Showcase

The Whole Enchilada, Holland Chef Showcase

Student chef makes Michigan salads with dried cherries, of course!

Student chef makes Michigan salads with dried cherries, of course!

School Meals Rock Nutrition Trends: Florida Chefs Put on “The Ritz”

What’s up next on School Meals That Rock? Trends, trends and more trends! I recently gave presentations in Michigan and Rhode Island on trends in food and nutrition using School Nutrition as examples. Over the next two weeks (or so), we’re going to explore the trends and share photos of school examples. Hope you’ll check in regularly to find out what is rockin’ in school meals!

According to the National Restaurant Association 2013 What’s Hot culinary forecast, Healthful Kids Meals rank number 3 in the Top Ten Trends for 2013 by both American Culinary Federation chefs and fast food operators. Child nutrition also hits the number 5 and 10 spots on the NRA list.

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

Child Nutrition hits 3 of 10 Top Trends for 2013

Thanks to a pilot Chefs Move to Schools program the Nassau County (FL) Schools are hitting multiple trends out of the park with help from Executive Chef Thomas Tolxdorf and his culinary team from The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island. More than 800 students from Nassau District Schools’ Fernandina Beach High School recently enjoyed a lunch that was healthful, included whole grains, and featured locally grown produce. Some lucky students even got in on the cooking action!

(Left to right) Thomas Tolxdorf, executive chef of The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island, Amari Forrest, Fernandina Beach High School (FBHS) student, Allyn Graves, director of school food service of Nassau County School Board, Bishop Richards, FBHS student, Laura Perkins, FBHS student, Michael Gass, chef and culinary teacher at FBHS and Glenn Wright, chef at The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island.

(Left to right) Thomas Tolxdorf, executive chef of The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island, Amari Forrest, Fernandina Beach High School (FBHS) student, Allyn Graves, director of school food service of Nassau County School Board, Bishop Richards, FBHS student, Laura Perkins, FBHS student, Michael Gass, chef and culinary teacher at FBHS and Glenn Wright, chef at The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island.

The menu included whole grain pasta with fresh tomato sauce with the option of Italian turkey sausage; a side of fresh spring vegetables tossed with olive oil and herbs, fresh green salad, homemade rolls and whole-wheat low-fat oatmeal cookies. Now, that’s a lunch I would gladly eat myself!

“We are excited about Executive Chef Tolxdorf and his team’s interest in partnering with
us and preparing such a meal for our students. We look forward to expanding this initiative into more schools next year and working directly with our food managers,” said Allyn Graves, director of school food services for Nassau District Schools. Nassau District Schools’ Food Service serves more than 1,600,000 meals and snacks each year – all meeting USDA’s strict nutritional requirements each year. Many meals include fresh produce from local farms in a 150 mile radius of the district. The department has received the prestigious Florida Healthy School District Silver level honor from the Coordinated School Health Partnership and is a cosponsor for Florida Action for Healthy Kids.

Nassau County (FL) Schools Feature Local Produce

Nassau County (FL) Schools feature local produce

Guest Chefs and Student prepare lunch

Guest Chefs and students prepare fresh lunch in Fernandina Beach High School