We recently wrote about chocolate milk with too much sugar being served in school lunches. We also covered a chocolate drink that’s better left on the shelf. But as parents, we can’t ignore the fact that kids LOVE sweetened milk. So what alternatives are there for breakfast, suppertime, or afternoon snack companion?
We decided to compare 3 options – ready to drink chocolate milk, powder, and syrup. For simplicity, we checked the category leader – Nesquik – which has all these options available. We only had powder at home, so we went to Nesquik’s website for more info. Unfortunately, the Nesquik website does not include ingredient information, which always means there’s something to be ashamed of…
What you need to know:
Let’s start with the easy/lazy option – Nesquik Ready To Drink Chocolate Milk. Here’s the ingredient list:
Reduced Fat Milk with Vitamin A Palmitate and Vitamin D3 Added, Sugar, Less than 2% of Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Calcium Carbonate, Cellulose Gel, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Salt, Carrageenan, Cellulose Gum.
Explanations: The milk is fortified, just like plain milk is. Sugar is the second ingredient, followed by not too much cocoa (less than 2%!). The calcium carbonate is just an addition to the calcium already present in the milk. the cellulose and carrageenan are natural and safe thickeners that make the drink a bit more viscous and feel a bit fuller in the mouth compared to regular milk. Heaven knows what the artificial and natural flavors are, but be sure that they add much more chocolaty taste than the measly 2% cocoa.
A 1 cup serving contains 28 grams of sugar, equivalent to 7 teaspoons of sugar! Three of those teaspoons are naturally present in milk as lactose, but there are 4 added teaspoons of sugar courtesy of Nesquik. That’s a lot of added sugar in a small 1 cup drink. Not something kids should consume on a regular basis.
On to Nesquik Chocolate Syrup. Ingredients:
Sugar, Water, Cocoa, Processed with Alkali (Adds a Trivial Amount of Fat), Tricalcium Phosphate, Salt, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Artificial Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Caramel Color, Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 6
The tricaclium phosphate is a calcium fortification, similar to what the ready to drink product includes. The citric acid is used as a preservative. Xantham gum is a natural thickener. Caramel color is created by carmelization of carbohydrates, in the presence of various acids. Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 6 are all artificial colors that have been shown in some studies to cause hyperactivity in children. Why add yellow red and green colorants to a brown syrup? Here’s the answer Chef Rob Endelman got when he called Nesquiks tool-free customer inquiry number. You can’t keep your kids 100% away from artificial colors and maintain a sane social order, but let’s keep the amount low and not waste artificial colors on products where they don’t even get to shine!
A serving of syrup is 2 tablespoons mixed into a cup of milk. Those 2 tablespoons are chock full of 23 grams of sugar (6 teaspoons)! That’s crazy. Luckily parents can – and do – use a much smaller amount when mixing with milk.
Which leaves us with the pwdered option – Nesquik Chocolate Milk Drink Mix. The packaging promises “25% less sugar” but doesn’t say less than what. Annoying. We’ll get to the sugar in a moment. Here are the ingredients:
Sugar, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Soy Lecithin, Carrageenan, Salt, Artificial Flavors, Spice. Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Zinc Oxide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Copper Gluconate, Manganese Sulfate, Biotin.
Here we have sugar and cocoa, and a whole bunch of fortifications to make the product appear sexier on the nutrition facts label (which the Nesquik website proudly displays). keep in mind that better sources of vitamins and minerals are always real foods, not fortified treats. The soy lecithin is a wetting, dispersing, and emulsifying element that keeps the powder, well, powdery. No clue from the manufacturer as to what the “spice” or the artificial flavor are. But you can be sure that the add to the chocolate flavor at a much lower cost than increasing the real cocoa count.
A serving is 2 tablespoons of powder, and translates to 13 added grams of sugar, a bit more than 3 teaspoons. That’s quite a lot of sweet. We recommend halving the amount of powder mixed into the milk and then decreasing even that over time.
All three Nesquik items also add salt, which is kind of surprising for a sweet product, don’t you think? Thankfully the quantity is really small (less than 2% of the daily value from Nesquik plus 5% naturally from the milk)
What to do at the supermarket:
If you’re going to choose one of the three – go for the powder. It’s got the least “bad list of ingredients”, and you can control the amount of sugary powder content added to the milk. If you are a purist, you can opt for 100% cacoa powder, for example Scharffen Berger Cocoa Powder, but it is a bit difficult to mix evenly with milk, and is a bit bitter in taste for most kids. Adding your own sugar can mitigate those issues a bit, leaving your child additive-free and happy.
If anyone has a homemade recipe or additional advice, please shoot away in the comments below. Thanks!
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