Is Chocolate Milk Losing Ground in School Lunches?

Photo: Tony Cenicola | The New York Times

Chocolate milk contains way too much sugar. An 8 fl oz serving (the standard carton served in schools) contains 3 teaspoons of added sugar! That sounds more like a treat than a healthy drink. Not something kids should be getting with their lunch at school on a daily basis.

The New York Times ran an article earlier this week on this matter, presenting arguments for both sides, and examples of actions taken by parents, lunch directors, and even entire school districts:

When students went back to school Monday in the District of Columbia, they were served only low-fat white milk. Berkeley, Calif., schools banned chocolate milk, and Florida school officials are considering it.

Is this the beginning of a new trend? Probably not. As we reported last month, The dairy industry published a report that demonstrated a precipitous drop in milk consumption at schools where “flavored milk” was removed. But the severely underfunded schools need to serve milk and have kids choose it in order to be eligible for funding from the government for the school lunch program. Get the picture?

We think there is a middle road that has not been fully explored yet. Serve flavored milk, by all means, but not with 3 teaspoons of added sugar. Isn’t 1 or 1.5 enough?

A while back, we asked Greg Miller, PhD, executive vice president of science and research for the National Dairy Council, why no manufacturer will try a slightly less sweet formulation.His response was that kids simply did not like the taste once a certain threshold of sugar was removed.

We believe that the answer is competition. No company wants to be the first to take the bold step of sugar reduction and lose out. With a tremendous oversupply of milk in this country, nobody wants to lose market share to a competitor for creating a drink that kids are less likely to choose.

As usual, the onus falls on parents to fight the uphill battle for their children’s health.

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  • Ed Bruske

    Big correction here. Schools are required to offer low-fat milk (not flavored milk) as part of the federally-subsidized school meal program. But kids are NOT REQUIRED to take the milk in most cases. Most schools operate an “offers versus served” program, meaning that depending on which meal plan they serve, they must offer an entree and certain other things as well as milk, and the kids get to choose a certain number of options to qualify as a federally subsidized “meal.” All of the schools I’ve visited use the “enhanced food-based” plan, meaning the school offers five items at lunch–including milk–and the kids must pick three. The milk is optional.

  • Lanette Lepper

    I have been making my own chocolate milk powder for the kids… 1 part cocoa, 2 parts sugar, and a pinch of salt. I store it in a covered canning jar. Place 1 Tbl in a cup, add 1 Tbl of water to make a paste, then add in the milk (warm or cold). My kids love it, and because of the ratio, each serving contains only one teaspoon of sugar.

  • Corey

    @Lanette Lepper
    Correct me if I’m wrong… but a Tablespoon is 3 teaspoons correct? So with a ratio of 1 part cocoa to 2 parts sugar, for every Tablespoon of the mix (1 serving) you get two teaspoons of sugar.

  • Wet Wolf

    All milk should be banned from schools due to the allergy issues. Not to mention all the other negative side affects:

  • cat

    In schools, I think kids will drink plain milk if that (and water) are all that is offered. They just need time to adjust after drinking flavored milk for years.

    Schools shouldn’t offer “treat” foods like flavored milk, Snapple, sodas, cookies, candy, etc, outside of maybe a dessert option at lunch. Treats are for parents to give at home.

    Kids are expected to sit still all day and learn. Extra sugar just makes it that much harder for kids to do what is expected of them, leading to more discipline problems.

  • Cassie

    When I was in school we had options of any drink imaginable. It’s never going to stop. The only way we can be sure that our kids are learning is by teaching them. We can’t baby them and we certainly can’t be with them every second of ever day. We, as parents, just need to be direct with our kids and hope that they learn from what we teach. Parents that tend to be too “you can’t drink that, Johnny, it’s bad for you!” And the ones that say “I only feed my kids this natural, free of sugars and only has one ingredient item” will find that their kids will be the first to rebel.

    Its’ only natural.

  • jordan

    This would be less of an issue if everything else they served was real “food.” Pizza, hot dogs, powdered eggs, soy-based hamburgers, and the like are the real issues. Not chocolate milk.

  • The Wife of a Dairyman

    I would much rather my kids drink flavored milk over soda. If they took sodas and high sugar juices out of school and kept the flavored and regular milk, water and 100% fruit juice in schools, it would be better for all. I think the campaign for chocolate milk in schools is with the idea to replace soda consumption. Milk has SO many added nutrients and vitamins in it, chocolate or regular. You have to remember, who is making the choice at school?….the child right? Wouldn’t you rather your child drink flavored milk over soda?

  • Mendy Heaps

    Chocolate milk simply isn’t necessary at school – period.

  • Maureen Bligh

    Chocolate milk is not causing the obesity crisis, consumption is just too low to be a significant source of calories. Food service directors need to look at the total diet to ensure students are getting the nutrients they need and are offered a variety of foods from all of the food groups. Sometimes a bit of added sugar or fat is needed to make foods palatable for your children. I like my oatmeal with sweetened yogurt on top, stir fried vegetables prepared in oil etc. Kids don’t get any nutritional value from foods they put in the trash. They will just be hungrier after school and likely eat less nutritious food from fast food or a convenience store on their way home.

  • Michelle

    If anyone at my district sees this Ill prolly get in trouble but I am a lunchlady and out menu EVERYDAY and im not lying is pizza and fries EVERYDAY. There are other options but they are just as starchy….I think the chocolate mile and other flavors should be gone. Here are the veggies we offer frozen corn canned green beans canned kale and french fries and mashed potatoes..Pizza everyday last year is was tacos and nachos everyday..Parents need to wake up and get involved in the school lunches.Here is a link to our menu…

  • Susan Finn, PhD, RD & Alison Kretser, MS RD

    Enough is enough. Let’s let kids enjoy their chocolate milk while we turn our attention to fighting bigger battles. Flavored milk is an effective way to get kids to consume their daily requirement of calcium plus an array of other important nutrients.

    Are an extra 38 calories per 8 ounces of milk (see below) really going to contribute to obesity in our school children? Don’t the nutritional benefits outweigh the slight increase in calories? We believe they do and that as nutrition educators, we should concentrate on the positive contribution of flavored milk.

    Calories and Sugar in 8 Ounces of Milk
    Skim white milk 83 calories and 12 grams of sugar
    1% white milk 102 calories and 12 grams of sugar
    Chocolate skim milk 140 calories and 26 grams of sugar

    Look at it this way: If students drink chocolate skim milk every day at lunch, they consume 285 more calories per week than if they had chosen skim white milk. Choosing skim chocolate milk over 1% white milk drops the weekly calorie difference to 190.

    Furthermore, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools has approved flavored milk on its list of Tier 1 Beverages – that is, low-fat and non-fat flavored milk with no more than 22 grams of total sugars per 8-oz. portion. Based on the IOM report, USDA is expected to issue proposed regulations for school meals for public comments by the end of 2010.

    The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, also has set guidelines for beverages sold on school grounds during the regular and extended school day. The guidelines, which set a high standard for portion control, nutrition quality and calorie limits in grades K-12, include flavored milk. No criterion was set for the amount of sugar.

    ACFN suggests that opponents of chocolate milk in schools focus on the positive, rethink their objections and concentrate on bigger issues that strike at the core of reimagining, redesigning and renewing school nutrition.

    • Editorial Staff

      @Susan & @Alison – thank you for sharing your perspective. Would it kill the dairy industry to put out a flavored milk with a bit less sugar? Or in the case of strawberry flavir, without artificial Red #40?

  • kc

    Why doesn’t one of the dairy companies try making a sweetened flavored milk using real cane sugar instead of corn syrup? Pretending that HFCS and cane sugar are exactly equal is the problem once again. Cane sugar is not a health food, but it isn’t an endocrine disrupting, appetite stimulating, genetically modified, chemically extracted food additive like high fructose corn syrup, either. It is time everyone started noticing that the empty calories from HFCS are not even the worst of its effects on the human body. HFCS and other corn derivatives directly cause weight gain. Remove all corn derivatives from the diet and appetite decreases and excess weight drops. Try it if you don’t believe me.

  • Sarah

    That is a crock about less sugar means kids won’t like it. I often let my son have chocolate milk, but I always put half chocolate milk then half white milk. He likes it just fine, in fact he loves it! Plus it goes a longer way. I wish all these corps would stop making assumeing the worst of our kids and let them make up their own minds! Isn’t that what education is for?

  • kc

    I agree. Kids are actually “taught” to prefer the high sugar drinks. Anyone that cuts all sugar from their diet can attest to the fact that you need much less when resuming it. If kids weren’t given highly sweetened treats every day, regular milk would taste just fine to them.

  • Lanette

    LOL, you’re right. I *was* a math teacher before kids. Childbirth messed up my brain! But it’s still less sugar than commercial stuff, and without all the extra ingredients they add in. As an occasional treat, I’m ok with that.

  • Michelle

    Isn’t chocolate milk better than no milk? I drank a carton of chocolate milk every day of school all my years as a student. I hated white milk. Still do. I am 52 and weigh 115 lbs. It didn’t hurt me at all and it provided the calcium I wouldn’t have otherwise had.