A recent article in the newspaper of the town I grew up in recently confirmed to me that the high school I used to attend stopped serving chocolate milk on all but one day of the week.
There had been a large menu change this school year at PHS, and I would say mostly for the better. They are offering more whole grain choices, unlimited raw veggies and fruits, and decreasing sodium and sugar in the overall menu. The one awful decision someone made, however, was to take away chocolate milk almost completely (chocolate milk is offered only on Fridays). As a strong supporter of all things dairy, I would just like to say this choice on removing chocolate milk from the school lunch menu is greatly hindering many people’s nutrient intake throughout the week. Many students (and teachers for that matter) simply do not enjoy the taste of skim or 1% milk out of a cardboard carton, and with removing the choice of chocolate; you are entirely removing their serving of dairy from their lunch. In the newspaper article about the recent menu changes, 7 out of the 10 interviewed students/teachers commented negatively on the milk situation (none positively), several saying they were entirely choosing not to even drink milk at lunch without the choice of chocolate or 2%. One quote that stood out to me was from a past teacher of mine, a very successful basketball coach at PHS and supporter of health, wellness, and physical activity. He himself said, “I never drank white milk.” He also makes a valid point, that assuming a one-fits-all, low-calorie, very-low-sugar diet is good for such a large group of people is unfair, as many are more active than others.
The elimination of chocolate milk from the menu of a large group of people, such as in schools, does more harm than good to the overall diets of people. Chocolate milk has every one of the 9-essential nutrients unflavored skim or 1% milk offer. These include calcium, vitamins A, D and B12, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, protein and phosphorus. Not offering the more preferred choice takes away from many people’s’ 3 servings of dairy a day and harms their overall nutritional intake. With about only 29% of families in America serving milk at their dinner table, milk consumption at school is a crucial opportunity for nutrient consumption for many developing adolescents.
But what about that added sugar in flavored milk? Flavored milks contribute only 3% of the added sugars in the average kid’s diet. Let’s really compare white milk to chocolate. The white, whole milk in my fridge has 11 grams of sugars, entirely natural lactose occurring in milk. Our chocolate milk offers only 6 more grams of sugar, just more than a tspoon, what most adults consume in their morning coffee each day. Compare these both to the same serving size of my Naked “Blue Machine” juice? A whopping 29 grams of sugar per serving almost double that of chocolate milk. I don’t hear anyone deeming that choice unhealthy!
What do the experts say about this sugar trade-off? The Institute of Medicine recognizes flavored milk as a great nutritional source with a moderate sugar level. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recognizes both white and flavored milks as a great alternative to soft drinks, which many teens choose when they cannot have their good tasting chocolate milk. Most of our nation’s leading health and nutrition organizations and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognize the valuable role that milk, including flavored milk, can play in meeting daily nutrient needs. They recognize the small amount of added sugars in flavored milk as an acceptable trade-off for the nutrients provided.
I think it is clear here that we should not be attacking chocolate milk to make our school menu more nutritious or healthy. According to the USDA, flavored milk is chosen 66% of the time in school lunch programs. Limiting the choice of chocolate milk in school lunches lowers milk consumption by more than 35%, a big ouch in the nutrition intake. I think the people have spoken; we need to allow the choice of chocolate milk in our schools. I truly admire all the efforts this school district is making toward healthier lifestyle promotion, but chocolate milk was really NOT the thing to remove from the menu. A lot of great choices were made for a healthier diet, but to make sure the student and staff body are consuming the nutrients they need, we need to allow flavored milk as a choice in our school lunches.
I think we also need to look at this issue as a nation-wide concern. With the First Lady’s positive support toward a healthy and active lifestyle in kids, many school districts are incorrectly turning against chocolate milk as a way to cut a bit of sugar from kids’ diets. There are more appropriate ways to cut calories, sodium, fat and sugar from diets, and we need to protect this one nutrient-rich miracle food we have in milk. School boards and congress-people need to be aware of how much people love chocolate milk and all the benefits in keeping it in our schools. In order to ensure our nation is staying strong and healthy, we need to offer our growing kids the nutrients they need through milk, and offer it in a way that the majority will choose to drink it.