Flavored Milk: Point, Counterpoint, and Me

Recently Jamie Oliver and the new LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy met and the new superintendent said he would ask the board to ban flavored milk sometime before July. Before I had time to blog an opinion, my fellow school food bloggers had already published two conflicting perspectives.

Point: Big Dairy Puts Big Scare Into Parents to Push Chocolate Milk–But for How Long? by Ed Bruske from Better DC School Food
Counterpoint: My Problem With Jamie Oliver’s War on Flavored Milk by Bettina Elias Siegel from The Lunch Tray

Here are some facts: Seventy-five to 85 percent of all milk sold in public cafeterias in this country is flavored milk mostly strawberry or chocolate milk. One 8 oz carton of flavored milk has 28 grams of sugar, that’s more per ounce than a soda.

Here’s what I think: Get rid of the chocolate milk. Not one of my students needs to drink the extra sugar. It’s may not be easy, but it’s worth it. We don’t really have a choice — I believe it’s a moral imperative.

I drank chocolate milk as a kid, but I remember it as a special treat my dad would make for my sister and me. My dad was an insomniac and in the night his clumsy movements around the kitchen or the sound of CNN from the living room would occasionally wake me up. I remember eating cereal with him in the middle of the night and thinking that was the best. Sometimes he would make chocolate and even “strawberry” milk for me in the middle of the night. I treasure those moments so much, having my dad to myself.

Confession: right now in my fridge there is a carton of chocolate almond milk. My husband bought it at the store last weekend. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I couldn’t resist and so I poured myself a little and it is amazing. Will that be a household staple now? No. Did my son get to drink some? Yes. He’s crazy about it. Does he desperately need calories? No. Has he stopped drinking his regular goat milk? No. He loves the white stuff and drinks it at mealtime. It’s almost like my son intuits that the chocolate milk is a treat – he doesn’t ask for it at mealtime. That’s the way I want to keep things.

As a parent I’d be upset if my child was drinking chocolate milk every day. Maybe some of you are shrugging off the chocolate milk thing (like Bettina who wondered if there are other things we need to tackle first on the lunch tray), but it’s a biggie. Many of my students are overweight and the ones who aren’t don’t need the extra sugar either. It’s not an “obesity” issue and, frankly, I resent the scapegoating of obesity all the time. Skinny kids need nutrition too — in the form of whole foods without added sugar.

Milk doesn’t have to all tarted up so that kids will drink it. It just has to be quality milk. And while we’re thinking about beverages at school, what about serving water? lactose-free milk? soy or rice milk?

I remember what the pints of milk I got with my school lunches tasted like. The milks I drank early last year (before I realized my lactose-intolerance was severe enough to stop me from drinking milk with my lunch) tasted stale and papery. Nothing like what I had at home. And I was getting cartons basically straight from the cafeteria’s cooler. Sometimes I got the chocolate milk and you know what? It did mask the staleness.

So if participation drops when chocolate milk is pulled, it may be that the kids can taste more than just white milk in their cartons. Maybe they don’t even care if it’s chocolate milk, but they would prefer not to drink papery weirdness. But if kids like chocolate milk, they can make their own at home like my dad did. Or buy it at the store like my husband did.

Schools should get out of the chocolate milk business and start thinking outside of the carton.

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70 thoughts on “Flavored Milk: Point, Counterpoint, and Me”

  1. As Philippa mentioned, lactose is a natural sugar found in milk.

    I believe the discussion (and controversy) is about the ADDED SUGAR in flavored milk.

    Flavored chocolate milk contains slightly more than 2.5 teaspoons of ADDED SUGAR PER 8 OUNCE SERVING.

    If a student has one carton of chocolate milk every school day (180 days per school year) that totals 450 teaspoons of added sugar per school year.

    450 teaspoons of added sugar x 13 school years = 5850 teaspoons of added sugar from kindergarten to grade 12.

    For each student, this equals 122 cups of added sugar total, OR almost 9.5 cups of added sugar per school year.

    The alarming piece is that this is only one drink item during one meal – it does not include the possibility that flavored milk might be offered for breakfast, too. OR take into account any other processed foods such as cereals, snack bars, fruit juices etc..

  2. Let's get rid of flavored milks in school and replace it with some good old fashioned parenting! If a child is refusing to drink milk that isn't chocolate can they simply be told no?

    who's in charge here?

  3. I never had a problem with the "papery" tasting milk at my school. We always had the milk "pouches" that were little squares of plastic. The milk always tasted fine to me, so I don't know why they can't use a BPA-free plastic for milk instead of paper cartons.

    Also, our school system had rules…all lunches came with plain milk. If you wanted chocolate milk, you had to pay 50 cents and buy it yourself. Most parents knew how much school lunch cost (or they prepaid), so they would send the appropriate amounts, limiting their kids to plain milk only.

    In the end, I think it is 100% up to the parents to decide what their kids consume for every meal. If you teach your children correctly, they will be able to make good decisions on their own, and won't need the school system to make decisions for them. If you allow your kids to eat whatever they want, then that's what they'll do. It's a shame that the government is having to step in and decide for us because so many seem incapable of doing it themselves.

  4. In response to the posters suggesting that we use artificial sweeteners to sweeten milk: sweeteners actually INCREASE sugar cravings and would make the problem worse. They can actually mess up your blood sugar–my mom had to cut back on her artificial sweetener consumption because her doctor told her it was making her weight problem worse by messing with her insulin levels. Artificial sweeteners just perpetuate the problem we have with being unable to eat real food.

    I occasionally consume added sugar in my diet. But in my family, we NEVER consume artificial sweeteners. It's not real food.

    Also, I thought the point of school lunch reform was to reintroduce whole foods and cut out ingredients that are "artificial." It seems like one step forward, two steps back.

  5. Our school offers only white milk for breakfast. About 3/4 of the students do not take milk for breakfast (only 1/2 of the students take milk when we have cereal). We do offer white, chocolate, strawberry at lunch and almost every students takes milk. However, I have heard students say they are not allowed to drink chocolate/strawberry, parent only allows them to have white milk. Also, if a student has a note from doctor saying they can't drink milk, then they are given fruit juice.

  6. I'm a sophomore in high school in Southern California, and I have to admit that I disagree with the idea of getting rid of flavored milk. I'm a student athlete. I run for the cross country team in the fall and the distance events for the track team in the spring. And yes, occasionally I buy chocolate milk. But I think that by the time kids are in high school, we kind of know how to make our own decisions about what we eat. At sixteen, I could legally emancipate myself from my parents in this state, so I think I'm old enough to have the right to decide if I want to drink chocolate milk on occasion. I have a healthy height and weight for someone my age and (particularly during sports seasons) I drink a lot of water. But I do buy chocolate milk at school about once every two weeks or so, and I have to say I enjoy it. I have never once bought plain milk at school, not because I don't like plain milk, but because I wouldn't choose it over chocolate. Also, I do like getting the extra energy from the sugar in the chocolate milk. I take several AP and Honors classes, and so my school days are very, very long and tiring. So as someone who doesn't drink it every day, but does enjoy it as an extra boost, I'd say to keep the flavored milk, at least in the high school system. Heck, most high schoolers have access to far worse things than a carton of flavored milk! 🙂

  7. I'm the high schooler who just posted above, and I thought I should mention that in my school at least, bottled water is a dollar more expensive than any kind of milk. Just another thought…

  8. I just wrote a blog about this for our school lunch company, choicelunch. I so wish almond milk was a viable option for our lunch program, but all 200 of our schools appreciate and wanted our nut free program, so it just isn't a possibility at tins point.

  9. I hated milk as a child–absolutely hated it. I even ate my cereal dry, and still do as an adult, because adding milk to it made me gag. The one type of milk I could stand was chocolate, which masked the terrible taste, so I have to admit I have nothing but sympathy for kids who don't want to drink anything else.

    As for their parents, my mother was genuinely terrified that if I didn't drink milk, I would be malnourished and have weak bones–I remember sitting on her lap when I was about four and being fed milk spoonful by spoonful because she was so desperate to get a few drops into me. (For the record, I'm almost 40 and have never broken a bone, despite some truly spectacular biking/skating/falling-out-of-trees accidents.) I know that milk isn't required for adequate calcium, which is why I didn't worry when my own daughter stopped drinking milk at around kindergarten age, but I can see why parents who believe that it is would rather have their kids drink chocolate milk than no milk at all. That doesn't mean it should be available at all school meals every day–I liked the idea above about having it on Fridays as a treat–but I understand the motivation behind both wanting and allowing it.

  10. Whoa. Did Sarah Palin enter the joint? I agree with whoever said let the default lunches at schools be healthy, and if you want the unhealthy stuff, bring it yourself. How is that infringing on anybody's rights? That's like saying "I can't get rhubarb pie at my local diner. That's infringing on my rights!" You don't go to school to indulge in every high fructose treat known to man, you go there to learn.

  11. Just an FYI, you can get the Chocolate Almond Milk unsweetened, I use it for protein shakes when I get sick of eating my eggs.

  12. While I agree that white milk does have a "Paper" like taste, it is what the schools can afford. A plastic bottle is over twice the price. $.14 vs $.29. And all of the talk of sugar, sugar isn't bad, our chocolate milk is fat-free, and quite tasty. So the sugar argument has no merit.

  13. Dude… read the studies. You're sounding a bit like the old-school doctors who swore up and down that smoking was perfectly fine.

    Ok maybe that's a bit extreme, but more and more data is pouring in every day making very powerful arguments AGAINST the bombardment of sugar we see occurring today. I'm not talking about bloggers or journalists or the media. I'm talking real science, real studies, real data, real, peer-reviewed facts. It's going to get harder and harder to argue that "excess sugar isn't bad" as more doctors and scientists continue to insist otherwise.

    Again, the argument here isn't that all sugar, in all forms, is the spawn of satan. The argument is that when we take sugar (raw sugar, processed sugar, HFCS, etc) and start dumping it into crap that DOESN'T NEED SUGAR, there is a serious, serious problem. Everything is fine in moderation. The problem is that this is no longer "in moderation." This is out of control. This needs to be fixed.

  14. I see a lot of differing opinions, so I thought I'd add mine.
    I would prefer that my eight year old have soy or almond milk, but soy milk costs extra. It doesn't really matter though, because I pack his lunch. I know that my views on food to not go along with the school lunch program.
    If kids are drinking dairy milk, it should not be chocolate all of the time. HOWEVER, if there are kids for whom that carton of chocolate milk is the most nutritious thing they have all day, then maybe chocolate milk is a good choice.
    The only solution that I see is for more parents to be educated on healthy lifestayles and nutritious food. Children need to be educated on how to make good choices. They need assistance with their choices. Our school district has so many choices, kids could easily come a way with a collection of low-fiber foods with few nutrients. I don't envy the school systems, because what's right for one child, isn't necessarily right for another, and we don't know what they eat at home.
    Schools need enough time for lunch so that the children can eat all of it, not just their favorite parts. With 20 minute lunch periods, by the time they have gone through the lunch line, very little time is left. Large amounts of food go in the trash.
    My boy has no appetite at lunch. He needs someone to sit with him and encourage him to do more eating than talking, but he doesn't have that in 2nd grade. I have had to work all year with his teacher to make sure he eats SOMETHING. He is an athlete. In the last year, he grew two inches and lost a pound. I am always looking for ways to add calories WITH NUTRIENTS to his diet. For example, I put peanut butter on his apple slices. Although I do not want him eating junk, I would much rather he have sugar than chemicals. He knows that dessert and sweets are treats, in moderation and not to replace when the nutritious food. His candy from holidays lasts for ages, even though he has access to it. It's about education…for children and ALL of the adults responsible for them, and as long as there are so many adults making poor choices, and as long as the junk food is marketed to the kids, there will continue to be an obesity problem.

  15. I remember drinking chocolate milk at school when I was a kid. One day I got a carton that had gone sour and ever since then, all of the chocolate milk at school tasted sour so I switched to skim milk.

  16. Why does the public school have to offer all the choices in the world to every child? Again. Default should be healthy, but if you have a need for extra calories because you are a super-metabolizing athlete or you have some sort of special condition that can't take dairy, then that's on you. Public schools don't need to offer the whole spectrum of choices, but the offerings should be the healthy ones. Period.

  17. Personally I think they should do away with milk at lunch all together. I'm only 20 so my school lunch days really aren't far behind me (only about 2 years) and I really have to say: School milk in general, is awful…

    The chocolate masked some of the flavor, so of course everyone chose that. I constantly tried to give the white milk chances but I could never stomach it. Water would be a much better option for the kids, even flavored waters to get them more into it.

    Also saw someone mention not ever having enough to drink! I was the same way. I drink about 1.5 gallons of water/liquids a day and was a big drinker as a kid as well. Those little cartons were never enough.

  18. The white milk quality was awful at my school. It was never refrigerated after they took it out to serve it. Half the time it tasted spoiled.

    With the recent hub bub about milk at school I asked my son what he drinks at school. He told me he drinks skim milk because the chocolate milk is gross. I sometimes serve Ovaltine at home, but overall they don't get chocolate milk. I don't buy chocolate syrup even when they ask because I'm the parent, I have the money, and I have the power to say no no matter how many times my child may ask for it.

  19. 1. Chocolate almond milk so SOOO good. I also use it in smoothies. Masks the green taste of the handful of lettuce I throw in there.
    2. Milk is disgusting, period. A majority of people lose the ability to process lactose as we age and it causes problems like IBS, constipation, reflux, excess mucous/phlegm AND it has been shown that dairy in general feeds cancer. (Along with the sugar that is in flavored milk.)
    3. The protein in milk is also difficult for many people (some ethnic groups more than others) to digest and this difficulty to digest can actually cause more nutrients to LEAVE the body. So it doesn't really matter that it has calcium and Vit. D if putting an indigestible protein in the body just strips the body of nutrients anyway.
    4. School milk tastes gross, chalky, papery, stale, however you want to describe it because it is very low quality. Discharge from the factory farmed milk cows' udders are in every single one of those cute little cartons. Yuck.
    5. WATER! Let's hear it for water! It is what the body needs and kids WILL drink it. I got my own two kids cute water bottles and that's what they take to school with them every day for lunch. If one happens to forget the water bottle in the car or in the classroom, then she asks the cafeteria manager for a cup and gets water from the fountain. Kids should be given filtered water, not bottled water which is so bad for the environment and has BPA and other chemicals.
    6. Did you know you can make a really great vegan pudding from chocolate almond (rice or soy) milk? Check out Vegan Lunchbox for the recipe.

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