Flavored milk update

This just in: the Los Angeles Unified School District voted on Tuesday to ban flavored milk. I welcome this initiative because I don’t think schools should be in the business of giving kids sugary milk every day. Chef Ann has called chocolate milk “soda in drag.” There’s a lot of added sugar in flavored milk as well as high fructose corn syrup and, in the case of many strawberry milks, they also contain artificial food dyes (Red #40). Let’s jack kids up on sugar and then teach them to read! Yee-haw!

But seriously, some nutritionists worry that if kids stop drinking milk they miss out on key nutrients including calcium and vitamin D. Well, I do think that some kids are turned off by white milk. I’ve blogged about the taste of my school’s plain white milk as stale and papery before. Not exactly pleasant. Spoonfed discovered that 66% of school milk sales are coming from the sale of flavored milks. And the potential loss of those sales could be devastating financially for school districts who are strapped for cash and the dairy industry, which I read is suffering from lower milk sales (though I can’t find a supporting link right now).

Andy Bellatti has blogged about other sources of calcium and vitamin D including leafy, dark greens. I know that a lot of people struggle to get their kids to eat greens at home — how can school districts get kids to chow down on foods that are new and unfamiliar? Am I lucky that I have a kid that is a great eater? Good question. Luck is a part of it. Also I think I exposed him to tons of foods during a “critical period” (that coincided with me eating school food for a year and then changing my life from the bottom up). What about school kids who have been eating processed food for a few years in a row? Well, I believe they have to grow there own greens to really be invested in their consumption. But school gardens are a totally different issue.

It doesn’t help that large, veritable news organizations often get their reporting wrong. Hey, I screw things up but I’m a part-time blogger; I’m not a reporter with the AP. Ed Bruske found out that the AP cited a recent “study” that was two years old and ultimately funded by the dairy industry. Who’s in the hen house?

Again, Chef Ann said it well, “We don’t have a calcium crisis in our country, we have an obesity crisis.” But maybe we need to call it a nutrition crisis and not stamp the “obesity” buzzword on anything health-related. Many students of all different shapes and sizes are lactose-intolerant and could meet their calcium needs through fortified OJ, a non-dairy based milk (soy, almond, rice, coconut, etc), or leafy greens.

Overall, I’m encouraged by what’s happening in LA. California does seem to be in the lead in food “trends.” I’m hoping this one catches on. Hey, I’m not against the occasionally chocolate milk made at home (we’ve even bought chocolate almond milk maybe twice this year — it’s great in fruit and veggie smoothies for a blast of sweet), but I just don’t think that schools need to be doling it out every day.

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24 thoughts on “Flavored milk update

  1. I bought a chocolate milk every day for lunch as a kid (strawberry was never offered and sounds gross, anyway). I've never liked drinking regular milk except for occasionally with breakfast. Instead of cutting it out altogether, why don't they just try to make it healthier? Surely they can use less sugar and no dyes and still have it taste good. Because I have a feeling that the kids who were buying chocolate milk are going to start drinking soda or really sugary juices instead, and not water or regular milk. And maybe I'm wrong, but I think sugary milk is better than sugary soda.

  2. I think you're lucky to have a kid that is a great eater. I, too, exposed both of my kids to tons of foods during 'critical' periods. That they ate happily. Then as they grew, they stopped. And stopped some more. And stopped further. And as it happened, the best nutrition my kids got was between ages 0 and 2. Now, they're 10 and 6 and eat only boring, bland, mostly protein-less food and I tear my hair out about it. And have no control over it anymore, hard as I try to.
    So, if my kids want chocolate milk every day? HOORAY! There are vitamins in that milk. And some protein too. And they're still not allowed to drink soda or juice-cocktails.

  3. I remember chocolate milk being something we had occasionally in school. It was like a treat when we had it. I don't recall ever not drinking my regular milk on the other days… but I also don't know that we had any other options to pick from.

  4. As long as they take steps to improve the taste of unflavored milk, either by changing the packaging or better storage, I think it's a great move! If they don't make unflavored milk a palatable option, I agree with Jennah – kids may very well turn to other sugar-loaded drinks instead.

  5. I avoided milk period in elementary school, opting by high school for canned juices. I constantly argued with teachers that the milk was making me feel sick or would give me a stomachache, but they dismissed me as a whiny, picky eater. We learned partway through my high school career that I'm lactose intolerant. Forcing milk into me–even though it gave me protein and nutrients–just made me feel miserable.

    As a result, I think we also should be lobbying for juices to be offered to our kids that are more nutrients than dyed sugar water. Whether it be from allergies or lactose intolerance, the kids who can't drink milk need options that are healthy for them, too. Perhaps it would be wise to simultaneously ax sugary milks and implement better juices. Then, those children who snub the white milk for whatever reason still have a healthy alternative to go to.

  6. I am neither for nor against chocolate milk; I am, however, for honesty in discussions related to school food. I am critical of the dairy industry for some of their unsupported claims about milk, but likewise I am critical of those who apparently feel that it is okay to make unsupported claims about chocolate milk.

    Soda and chocolate milk are in no way similar when it comes to added sugar (which I think we all agree is the type of sugar under discussion, not the sugar which occurs naturally in milk, accounting for more than half of the g of total sugar in most chocolate milk.)

    The typical nonfat plain milk served in schools has 14 g sugar, not 12; this is because dairies add additional nonfat milk solids to skim milk to give it a more palatable “mouth feel” – which is to say, it is more appealing, and customers, including kids, are more likely to drink it, if the milk feels richer in the mouth than would be the case without the added milk solids. Skim milk without added milk solids also has a kind of bluish color which is not appealing. I think it is splitting hairs to count those two grams in the additional milk solids as “added sugar”.

    The chocolate milk served in LAUSD (and increasingly in the fall you will see it in other schools too) has just the additional 6 grams of added sugar, which bring the total g to 20 in 8 oz. Those 6g equate to .75g per ounce. Coke, on the other hand, has 3.25g added sugar per ounce, more than 4 times as much as the LAUSD chocolate milk.

    Really, is it honest to say that soda, with 4 times the added sugar of chocolate milk, is the same as chocolate milk? The fact that the dairy industry may be stretching the truth does not make it okay for the other side to do likewise. School food advocates should not lower themselves to using the worst tricks of Big Food.

  7. I think that this initiative is a step in the right direction, but I think that there are more important issuses in school lunch than the milk. What about those PB&J "sandwiches" you got last year…or the "chicken" nuggets that look almost identical to tatar tots? Those foods likely have more sugar, dyes, and additives than a carton of chocolate milk (I'm assuming, of course, since I do not have access to the ingredients list).

    And from a nutrition student's perspective, I would just like to add that, while leafy greens DO contain calcium, that calcium is not as easily absorbed by your body as the calcium found in milk. I think that is one of the biggest concerns when nutritionists sight calcium requirements as a reason for keeping flavored milk in. Does that make it right? Not necessarily. . .but it is something that we should be taking into consideration. I LOVE the idea of fortified juices! It would be a great alternative to flavored milk!

  8. While I understand your points, if this had happened to me just a few years ago when I was in high school you would have found me drinking soda, juice, or sweet tea everyday instead of regular milk. I can't stand the taste so if there were no flavors, I just simply wouldn't have purchased milk at all. That's the bad part of this.

  9. its funny, i've read lots of other articles in fitness genres, and they all have said that chocolate milk is a good source of vitamins, minerals, etc – in FITNESS articles!!! i think it is kind of ridiculous to think that something like chocolate milk could be a major contributor to something like childhood obesity. NPR did a really great segment on this topic.

    also, have you seen this article?

  10. I love chocolate but in grade school, I hated the chocolate milk they offered! It was too thick and didn't satisfy my chocolate cravings.

    My elementary school (in CA) only offered juices to kids who were lactose-intolerant. And in order for you to get the juice, you had to have your parent prove it. If they wouldn't, then you were stuck with the milk.

  11. I hated drinking regular milk growing up and would only drink flavored milk (although I would still have regular in my cereal). To this day, at 31, I still refuse to drink regular milk because I can't stand the taste. If I'm going to drink milk, it better be chocolate or I'm not having any of it. I have never in my entire life, despite my daily chocolate milk consumption, had a problem with being obese or overweight.

    I would argue, as was the case with me, that even with the additional sugar consumption, drinking flavored milk is more beneficial than not drinking any at all. Our county just brought chocolate milk back to school lunches after some revamping. The students were thrilled. Prior to the return of the chocolate milk, I witnessed very few students drinking regular milk with their lunches. In fact, they tended to drink sugary sports drinks and "juices". Now I see them drinking chocolate milk.

    I highly doubt chocolate milk is the source of the childhood obesity epidemic. I would say a more likely cause would be the giant bags of chips and candy that I see students bringing into school and consuming alongside their school lunches. School lunch reform can only do so much. Schools can serve healthful, nutritionally valuable meals, and students will still be obese. Ultimately, I strongly believe the responsibility falls to the parents, not the schools, to reign in childhood obesity.

  12. Like most posters, I simply didn't drink plain milk. Still don't, it's nasty. Add to that the fact that school milk is either sort-of warm or frozen, and it gets worse…..

  13. Not to be the harbinger of doom, but a lot of kids are great eaters as babies and young toddlers, and then slowly but surely, they start rejecting all their favorites until you have nothing left to feed them. My daughter loved everything until she was about 3 or 4, then hated everything until she was 8, at which point she suddenly started expanding her repertoire again. (I nearly passed out the day she asked if she could try some of my scrambled eggs at a restaurant. Why yes, you can!!)

    As to chocolate milk, I know we had it in the cafeteria when I was in elementary school in the 70s, because my winter coat got ruined one year when someone spilled chocolate milk into the faux fur hood. I tend to agree with the poster who said it's more likely to be chips and candy that are making kids obese – those are definitely more available than they were 30 years ago, when a candy bar was a once-a-week treat (if that).

  14. In the school I was at last year (it was a PreK program) the students were only give white milk in the morning for breakfast. The school believed it was healthier and since, for a preschooler, all of the hard work occurs in the morning, it gave them more vitamins and energy to get through the day. For lunch, they were given the choice between white or chocolate milk. I'd say the children were split in half of who liked what milk. But sure, chocolate milk has more sugar but it still has a good amount of vitamin D to help the kids bones. I know for sure the students at that school were only drinking pop and sugary juice.

  15. In my elementary school, we were only offered chocolate milk once a week, on Fridays. I loved this. It felt special, but we were still able to learn to drink the icky white stuff. 🙂

    Now, I drink neither. As soon as I got out of my mother's roof, I switched to water.

  16. Agreeing with Vanessa. When my now 10 year old was eating broccoli as a toddler, I bragged to my parents. Mom's reply was, "you ate it too, until you went to school and learned it was gross" Peer pressure starts early, and I believe you have already mentioned that your son likes when his lunch matches the other kids'

  17. Preface: I'm completely in favor of reducing/removing chocolate milk in schools.

    It's interesting you mentioned "fortified" orange juice. I've been thinking about fruit juices a lot recently, since the USDA considers a glass of fruit juice to be a serving of fruit. I think that's total bunk. A glass of orange juice is basically a glass of sugar and vitamin C (which we can get easily elsewhere).

    I'm generally not a fan of fortification, because nutrition science is always evolving, and we don't know what we don't know. But what we *do* know is that fresh, whole foods are almost universally better for us than foods that have had nutrients removed and then had some of them put back.

    I'm not a parent, but if I had kids, I'd rather they drank chocolate milk than orange juice. Better yet, my kids — most of the time, at least — would be drinking regular milk and actual oranges.

    The LA Times posted a good Editorial today about Chocolate Milk vs. OJ:

  18. When I was in elementary school back in the 80's, our beverage choices were plain milk, chocolate milk, orange juice, and apple juice. I always got plain milk or sometimes apple juice. It wasn't that I didn't like chocolate milk, but it didn't seem to go with lunch. I thought of it more like a dessert. I mean, chocolate with pizza? Ew.

    It also didn't quench thirst, probably because of the sugar. The plain milk was only a little better though. Even as a kid, I wondered why we couldn't just have a glass of water. We had water fountains, but I remember being really thirsty in school a lot and wishing I could just have a tall glass of cold water instead of just a sip from the water fountain.

    When I brought lunch from home, I had a thermos of homemade iced tea. My mom always kept a pitcher in the fridge. It had caffiene and added sugar, but not as much as a coke, and it was refreshing.

    Why CAN'T kids drink water? DRINKING is primarily to rehydrate yourself, food is where you get your calories and nutrients. Ok, ok, I know some people don't like water. I was never one of those people, but at least have water as an option for the water-drinkers out there.

  19. I hate that milk is revered so much in our American society!! Chocolate, strawberry, plain – none of them are magic liquid entities that magically make kids healthy/healthier.

    The USA is one of the top consumers, per person, of milk in the whole world. The US also has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis. Low milk consuming societies generally have low rates of osteorporosis. The milk-calcium-bone density myth has been created and perpetuated by the intense lobbying of the dairy industry throughout the lifetimes of most adults living today.

    For those that wonder, yes I consume dairy – but in the form of cheese, not drinking it. So I am not radically stating that dairy should be strictly avoided (though sometimes I wonder…). Just saying that I don't think it's the magic food that Americans often believe it is and I am always annoyed it gets such a prominent posistion in our society (it's own circle, even, on MyPlate).

    In closing, drink water 🙂

  20. @Marie – the June lunch menu for our school had a cartoon cow with the caption "Don't be a cowch potato this summer – get 60 minutes of exercise every day for good health, and don't forget your milk!"

  21. I agree with Andrew @ Eating Rules. Oranges and other fruits are for eating, not drinking. Most nutrients are in the part of the fruit that's removed to make juice. As a result, fruit juice is refined fruit and as such, is calorie dense while providing little in the way of nutrients.

    I also think kids need to be provided easy access to water at lunchtime. I have the impression that most are not and I think that's weird and not a good thing.

    Emily (or other professional nutritionist reading this), isn't the calcium in leafy greens highly absorbable if the greens are cooked?

    Lots of people have commented here that chocolate milk at school doesn't cause obesity. So true, but that's a myopic view of the issue.

    It's the added sugar in chocolate milk (2 or 3 times a day in many cases) PLUS the added sugar in cereal, bread, biscuits, buns, crackers, cookies, muffins, pancakes and French toast, powdered eggs and liquid eggs, breakfast sausage, flavored yogurt, applesauce, canned fruit, tomato sauce on pizza and pasta, mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce, salsa and taco sauce, salad dressings (including ranch) and dipping sauces, teriyaki sauce, tater tots and French fries (in the coatings added for oven frying), chicken nuggets and chicken fingers (it's in the breading), veggie burgers, baked beans, hot dogs and cold cuts, chili, sloppy joe filling, coatings on flavored chips, and on and on and on. On top of all that added sugar, most of the items containing flour contain refined white flour that is converted to sugar by the body so quickly that eating it is similar to eating sugar. In combination, a diet rich in these so-called child-friendly foods contributes significantly to obesity.

    Even for children who aren't overweight, we're setting them up for becoming obese as adults. Two-thirds of adults in this country are overweight with half of those being obese and those numbers are on the rise. Where does it end?

    Removing chocolate milk from school cafeterias is one of many changes needed to improve school food and I applaud the LAUSD, among others, for having the good sense and guts to do it.

  22. @Kim–you're absolutely right that the calcium (and other great nutrients) are more easily absorbed when the greens are cooked. After re-reading my post, I realize that I didn't really make myself clear…I was refering to raw greens. I apologize for the confusion/misinformation. Now the question becomes: how do we get kids to eat these awesome veggies? Most kids I know are completely turned off by anything green! Just something to consider.

  23. Emily, thanks for clarifying and no apology needed! I hear you about kids not liking greens. Heck, most adults I know don't like them. But some schools have had success in getting kids to eat greens, usually mixed with other foods. I think it's worth the effort. Aren't beans, or at least some types of beans, also rich in calcium?

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