My Problem With Jamie Oliver’s War on Flavored Milk

by Bettina Elias Siegel on April 28, 2011

As those who’ve followed “Food Revolution” know, Jamie Oliver has decided to make flavored milk Public Enemy Number One.

In the first episode of this season, J.O. filled a school bus to near-bursting with white sand to demonstrate how much sugar is in the flavored milk offered to Los Angeles USD students each week.* He’s also circulating an online petition to get flavored milk out of American schools, a petition that’s heavily promoted on his Food Revolution Facebook page and Twitter.  (Faced with this pressure, and perhaps also to resuscitate LAUSD’s public image — which has been battered quite a bit on “Food Revolution” – the new Los Angeles schools superintendent announced yesterday that he’ll ask the LAUSD board in to consider a flavored milk ban.)

Of course, Jamie Oliver is not alone in wanting flavored milk out of schools.  Many other people (whom I respect) also argue for a flavored milk ban - including Chef Ann Cooper (who famously refers to flavored milk as “soda in drag”) and the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.  (The recent coverage by the mainstream media of sugar’s alleged toxicity has only added fuel to the fire.)  But it’s Jamie Oliver, with his winning personality and broad media reach, who has suddenly made the issue a topic of national conversation.

At times like this, when the populace is out with pitchforks and torches, it feels safer to lay low until the commotion dies down. Moreover, anyone who comes to the defense of flavored milk is often accused of being co-opted (or haplessly brainwashed) by the dairy industry, which obviously has a vested interest in keeping flavored milk in school cafeterias.

But I have some niggling concerns about JO’s War on Flavored Milk and finally decided I was being a wimp by remaining silent. Keep in mind, I’m not pro-flavored milk by any means.  I’m just anti-ban, and here’s why:

Lack of Consensus

While everyone agrees that lowering kids’ sugar intake is a good idea in this age of childhood obesity, things get a little trickier when it comes to flavored milk.  On one end of the spectrum, there are parents who feel strongly that milk is an important part of a child’s diet and they’re willing to overlook the added sugar if necessary to get their kids to drink it.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are parents who feel the added sugar is a terrible thing and insist that kids will drink plain milk if no flavored milk is offered.  There are parents in the middle (like me) who allow flavored milk as an occasional treat.  And then there are parents who believe that neither flavored milk nor plain milk is a necessary part of a child’s diet and that we’ve all been sold a bill of goods by the dairy industry.

Meanwhile, there’s no clear consensus in the medical/nutrition community to settle the debate.  Whatever you may think of the scientific validity of their positions, or the degree to which they have, or have not, been influenced by the nefarious dairy lobby (and I offer no opinion on either point), here are some leading organizations that currently support flavored milk in schools:  the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, the National Medical Association, the National Hispanic Medical Association and the School Nutrition Association.  In addition, the Institute of Medicine, whose recommendations will form the basis of the new, forthcoming school food regulations, also accepts the presence of flavored milk in schools.  (Dentists, apparently, can’t reach a consensus on the issue.)

I mention these organizations not as an endorsement of their views but merely to point out why a well-meaning parent could easily feel conflicted about flavored milk, getting one message from Jamie Oliver and another, diametrically opposed view from a trusted pediatrician or pediatric dietician.

Milk Consumption Drops When Flavored Milk Is Banned

My fellow school food blogger Ed Bruske, aka The Slow Cook, has written many posts in support of a flavored milk ban (which I encourage you to read as a counterpoint to this piece).  In one such post, Ed cites a recent Institute of Medicine report which concluded that most Americans are getting sufficient calcium, with the exception of one subset of the population, girls aged  9-18.

One could conclude from that sentence that we don’t have a problem with calcium consumption in America, but here are two questions that came to my mind when I read it:

First, would children currently getting sufficient calcium continue to do so if flavored milk were removed from schools?  A recent study which looked at 58 elementary and secondary schools found that on days when only white milk was offered in cafeterias, milk consumption dropped an average of 35 percent.  Yes, yes, I know that study was funded by the dairy industry, and maybe it’s all bunk.  But on a purely anecdotal basis, I have never heard of any school district that did not see a significant, lasting drop in milk consumption when flavored milk was discontinued.  (If any of you have data to the contrary, please do let me know.)

If you don’t believe me, check out this photo taken in Houston schools documenting children’s refusal to drink white milk as part of our universal, in-class breakfast program (in which only white milk is offered.)  Each and every day, carton after carton of unopened milk is thrown away (and cannot be donated to food banks under a local city ordinance).  And in a meeting yesterday, HISD indicated that — almost one year after the breakfast program was fully rolled out — kids still don’t want the white milk, disproving the notion that children inured to flavored milk will eventually drink plain if they have no choice.

Second, what about those girls aged 9-18 who were found by the IOM study to be getting insufficient calcium?  There’s probably no subset of the population for whom calcium consumption is more important, given that women’s long-term bone strength is dependent, in part, upon calcium consumption during these exact years of critical growth.  Shouldn’t we be worried about taking away a one of the best dietary sources of calcium from their school meals?  And that leads me to my next concern . . .

Reliance on Other Sources of Calcium May Not be Reasonable

I’m not a dietician and don’t even play one on TV.  But just looking at the major dietary sources of calcium, I worry about kids who stop drinking all milk after a flavored milk ban, yet still need a recommended 1300 mg of calcium a day.   To make naturally sour yogurt palatable to a broad population of children, you have to add quite a bit of sugar.  An over-reliance on cheese would most likely exceed existing fat limits for school food.  Dark, leafy greens at least when ineptly prepared, as they are by most school cafeterias (see this sad picture of bok choy served in Houston ISD) and sardines or canned salmon with bones are nonstarters.

In his above-cited post, Ed Bruske argues that a fortified cereal like Total can supply necessary calcium that’s lost when milk is no longer consumed at lunch.  But what about the millions of American school children who eat lunch at school but not breakfast?

I guess I’m just not confident that kids will get necessary calcium without drinking milk, and whether we like it or not, a lot of them will only drink it when flavored.

But let’s say I’m wrong about everything I’ve said so far – and I certainly might be as I claim no expertise in these areas.  Now let’s turn to my last, and most important, concern about JO’s Chocolate Milk War.

Is a Flavored Milk Ban the Best Use of Our Energy Right Now?

I recently met (via email) Justin Gagnon, CEO of Choicelunch, a California school food catering company mentioned on TLT last week.  Somehow he and I got to chatting about flavored milk, and Justin summed up beautifully my overall feeling about Jamie Oliver’s crusade:

I’ve walked the floor of the CSNA [California School Nutrition Association] and SNA [School Nutrition Association] national show multiple times, and I’m frankly a little bummed that the best Jamie came away with was chocolate milk.  What about “Uncrustables”?  Or “pancake and sausage sandwiches”?  Or “commodity processors”?  Processors are in business simply to take your government chicken and grind it, pump it with soy fillers to offset fat, and mold it into a dinosaur.  These are kinds of issues are far more problematic than flavored milk in my view. . . . I get that chocolate milk is an easy target – there’s a viable alternative (white milk), there’s a singular enemy (sugar), and there’s a like for like comparison to another villain (soda, when compared strictly on a gram by gram basis).

Seemingly low hanging fruit here, and I get it.  I don’t want my daughter drinking chocolate milk, and if so, only sparingly.  But on the macro level, instead of addressing what I feel are much larger issues, we’re bringing the fight to something kids love, and quite frankly, parents are split in terms of their position (even those who are adequately armed with all of the facts).  In my view, this is a bad play that is only further polarizing parents on sides of the issues instead of unifying.

To Justin’s list of issues on which Jamie Oliver might have focused this year (complete with an online petition and calls to action) I would add:

  • the woeful inadequacy of school food funding – ie., the fact that far more than a six cent increase is needed to “revolutionize” school food;
  • the legality of incorporating ammonia-treated “pink slime” in ground beef sold to schools;
  • the need for Congress to provide funding to upgrade school kitchens around the country, many of which can do little more than deep fry and reheat;
  • the lack of access to drinking water in school cafeterias and the degree to which the new requirement to provide water is an unfunded mandate many schools will have trouble meeting;
  • the complete junk sold on cafeteria a la carte lines that passes for “healthy” (even under the new IOM standards) like Baked Flaming Hot Cheetos and Rice Krispie Treats.

and on and on  . . .

What About Finding a Middle Ground?

It seems to me that there’s enough disagreement among parents and professionals on the flavored milk issue that a middle ground solution is called for.  For example, what about flavored milk with significantly less sugar?  I recently interviewed School Food FOCUS (post forthcoming), a group that brings together the largest school districts in America to demand better products from food producers.  Using their considerable market power, some districts have been able to force dairies to make lower sugar flavored milk, and I’ve been told that my own Houston school district (7th largest in the country) is embarking on a similar effort.  Wouldn’t that be an idea worth considering before we ban a beverage that so many people seem to want to keep around?

And finally, there is the issue of parental choice.  When it comes to something utterly non-nutritive in schools, like sodas in vending machines or sugary birthday treats in the classroom, I’m not cool with the argument that says,”Just tell your kid not to eat/drink it.”  That approach, in my opinion, puts an unfair burden on children for no good purpose.  But there’s enough room for debate on the flavored milk issue that in this case, I, for one, am willing to live and let live.

* * *

Given the current anti-flavored milk fervor out there, I’m going to hit the “publish” button on this post and then run for deep cover.  I’ll tiptoe back later and read your comments, of which I’m guessing there will be many.  And I’ll let you know if the JO camp decides to strip me of my Food Revolution November Blog of the Month honor.  (They can’t do that, can they?)

* School food advocate Dana Woldow pointed out in a comment on TLT that the sugar in Jamie’s school bus “represents the sugar available to the 650,000 kids in the LAUSD, a population large enough to fill 7 stadiums (stadia?) the size of the approximately 92,000-seat Rose Bowl. So to get a true picture of the amount of sugar per kid per week, you have to imagine the sugar pile cut into seven parts, then each part divided by the number of people in the Rose Bowl picture. . . .”  Whatever you think about the present level of sugar in flavored milk — and I agree it’s too high — definitely click on the Rose Bowl picture to get some perspective on the school bus stunt.

[Ed Update:  I didn't realize that Ed Bruske has another anti-flavored-milk post today (I think we must have published within a few hours of each other!) that could have been written as a direct response to this post.  You can check it out here.]

 

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{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate M April 28, 2011 at 7:07 am

Flavored milk was banned at our kids’ elementary school this year but has been reformulated and is being reintroduced next month. My problem with the flavored milk (just chocolate in our case) is that my kids never would have known it existed had it not been introduced at school. Now it’s the only way they want milk. I think that happens with lots of kids. Frankly, though, we don’t drink much of it either way because we’re yogurt & cheese junkies.

What I found really stupid in our system, though, is that they banned chocolate milk but continue to offer ice cream and cookies on a daily basis.

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Twinkles April 28, 2011 at 7:40 am

I agree with you. I have far less problem with chocolate milk (and homemade desserts, even!!) because you KNOW WHAT THEY ARE. Corn syrup infused processed food is my gripe (along with masquerading fruit juice as a “healthy choice”). We allow chocolate milk as an occasional treat at home, and am not particularly looking forward to chocolate milk offered daily at school. But honestly, the chocolate milk seems to be the least of their problems.

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Melissa Sull April 28, 2011 at 7:51 am

I appreciate and agree with your balanced approach to this topic. At my house flavored milk is a once in a while treat (and I think a good one) but my kids will happily drink white milk and they usually pack water in their lunces. I’m reluctant to jump on the ‘banning’ bandwagon since it is such a divisive way to get what I really want – healthier food and snack choices in my kids’ school.

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Rachel April 28, 2011 at 8:04 am

“My problem with the flavored milk (just chocolate in our case) is that my kids never would have known it existed had it not been introduced at school.”

This. A lot of the junk my son wants – chocolate milk, juice, other sugary foods – was introduced to him at school. And I’m not hard-line anti-sugar. But because he’s already gotten God only knows how much at school, it limits what he can have at home.

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Parent May 4, 2011 at 8:13 am

Why does it limit what he can have at home??? Your the parent..you want the schools to stop serving it to your kids but you buy it at home too for them to eat?? that is what your saying! “Schools you teach my kids right from wrong and good choices over not so good choices….and we will be at home waiting for them to come home and ask for Broccoli!! get real….kids learn at home at an early age……the kids that are obese are coming into school already obese! And yes I know because I am a parent and also a School NURSE and we weigh and measure all our kids and that is a FACT! Stop dumping all your problems on the schools doorstep…..starts at home…ends at home! PERIOD!

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Sandra June 5, 2011 at 2:45 am

I believe you may have misunderstood. Rachel is forced to limit her child’s sugar intake at home because he gets enough of it at school. She’s not “anti-sugar,” but is forced to take a hard stance against it at home because the school is feeding the child too much of it in school.

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Aviva Goldfarb April 28, 2011 at 9:11 am

What a fantastic post that raises some really great questions about the flavored milk ban. I still don’t like to see sugary milk offered in schools and I believe that after a time the consumption of plain milk would go back up, but I am keeping an open mind. Thanks for sharing your experiences and views!

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Bri April 28, 2011 at 9:13 am

I so agree with you (and Justin) about the low-hanging fruit vs. the real meat of the issue, if you’ll pardon the food puns. We allow chocolate milk occasionally; even better, we do things like this morning’s breakfast accompaniment, which was lowfat milk blended with bananas, cocoa powder, and just a tiny drizzle of honey. Would I want my kids drinking chocolate milk every day at school? No, probably not; but I’d be a lot less concerned about it if I thought they wouldn’t be able to drink it alongside a lunch of Uncrustables and dino nuggets and…what was that abomination you once wrote of…Frito pie with a side of mashed potatoes?
As to the calcium issue. I’m not sure that we can ever make school food the complete solution to every nutrient value we want kids to be taking in; even if we continue offering flavored milk and improve kids’ calcium consumption, the next thing will be iron, or Vitamin A, or whatever. School food is intended to be a supplementary part of a whole day’s diet for children; and while it unfortunately becomes, too often, nearly the entire day’s intake for low-income kids, we have to stop looking at it as the one true savior of American nutrition. My dream is to see more, better quality, better-funded community programs addressing at-home food and nutrition for families of ALL socioeconomic means; only when we comprehensively deal with every source of calories and nutrients in the child’s diet will things like the chocolate milk debate be exposed for the red herrings they actually are.

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shannon April 28, 2011 at 9:21 am

There are some who don’t see milk as an important part of the diet and still don’t think that we’re being played by the dairy industry. Many people don’t digest milk properly, and this is actually pretty common in communities of color. I wonder if they could somehow offer orange juice w/ calcium added as a beverage at schools? And maybe flavored milk 1x weekly, but plain milk the rest of the time?

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Sandra June 5, 2011 at 2:51 am

Exactly! Big Dairy would like us to believe that milk is the only way to supplement calcium in the diet. Not true!

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Mike Pomeroy April 28, 2011 at 9:23 am

Thank you, Bettina. I really appreciate your balanced approach to all the issues you write about, and how consistently step back and think critically about these issues.

I think that all this fuss about flavored milk is a major distraction from many more serious issues that are at stake. Chocolate milk might not be ideal, but at least it isn’t completely nutrient void like so many other things served in our schools. Can’t we focus our collective energies on things much more worthwhile, like figuring out ways to get our kids to eat less junk and more fruits, veggies, and whole grains?

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Ray Prock Jr April 28, 2011 at 9:24 am

To add to your dissection of the data behind the Jamie Oliver Sugar Bus the assumption was made that all the children in LAUSD are drinking flavored milk for lunch AND breakfast. In my opinion that nearly cuts the representation in half immediately because not all of the students are going to be consuming that much flavored milk.

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Karen April 28, 2011 at 10:28 am

Shannon and I have the same issue. Lactose intolerance is common and becomes more so as we get older. In some ethnic groups, children past the age of 3 might be lactose intolerant to a large degree. A pediatrician I know well once told me that when he learned a child “hates pizza and ice cream,” he naturally concluded that child was lactose intolerant. If a lactose intolerant child will drink flavored milk, she’ll most likely have some gastric upset but she’ll also get a good dose of calcium and protein, despite the 25g of sugar that comes along for the ride.

I never “liked” milk and now I’m middle aged and osteopenic despite years of jogging for fitness and eating plenty of dark leafy greens and yogurt. One of my daughters “hates milk” and so she gets flavored milk in her lunch whenever she asks for it. The other daughter eats nothing but dairy and so never gets flavored milk, God help her arteries.

I appreciate the need to reduce our sugar consumption over all, but I fail to see how banning flavored milk is going to solve that problem.

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Michele Hays April 28, 2011 at 10:38 am

My personal feeling about school food in general is that it’s our society’s best opportunity to instill good eating habits.

One area where we are failing miserably as a culture is separating “treats” from “food.” Flavored milk is a treat, and should be treated as one.

I think a ban does nothing to educate kids to make good choices. I’ve long maintained that kids should get a choice of EITHER dessert OR flavored milk. Unfortunately, if every single item on your plate has added sugar – as many lunches and breakfasts in our district do – it’s difficult to determine which item constitutes dessert. You’re right – I’d really prefer to work on removing the all-dessert lunch/breakfast than focus on a single part of the menu.

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Nancy Huehnergarth April 28, 2011 at 10:50 am

Just like sugary sodas, chocolate milk used to be an occasional treat. But not anymore. By selling/serving sugary milk daily at schools we continue to teach our kids to prefer beverages with added sugars. Then we wonder why it’s hard for them to switch to beverages with no added sugars? Let’s get sugary milks and all other sugary beverages out of schools and let kids get used to the taste of real milk. If unsweetened milk sales are lower than sugary milk sales were, so be it. There are plenty of other sources of calcium in a well-balanced, healthy daily diet.

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The Wife April 28, 2011 at 10:58 am

Our 5th grade daughter never liked milk. It turns out she is lactose intolerant so milk, flavored or plain, isn’t really an issue in our house. However, her father is The Slow Cook, so the food battles we fight with her are draining.

She was in a local charter school from age 3 through 3rd grade, and always took a lunch from home. When she entered 4th grade at the neighborhood elementary school she started to eat the lunch provided in the cafeteria. Frankly, it was a relief to not have to pack a lunch daily, but it came at a price. She gained weight almost immediately after starting that practice, and it wasn’t the usual prepubescent pudginess. It was the food she was eating. It was at this time Ed stumbled into his school food reporting.

As for a lack of consensus among the medical community that’s a given. I’m a doctor’s kid and believe if you put ten docs in a room they wouldn’t be able to agree on much about nutrition. It’s barely taught in medical school. And I don’t trust them anyway. They’ve gone along with the “no fat” boondoggle with no concern for the added sugar and salt used to make up for the flavor lost by eliminating fat. The empirical evidence is in on this subject. Over the past 30 years we’ve become obese with myriad middle-aged metabolic diseases–diabetes, hypertension and fatty liver disease–increasingly showing up in children, and clearly linked to sugar and salt consumption, not to fat.

We eat dinner at the table as a family every evening. We do this because we believe it is part of our job as parents to expose her to different foods and provide her with the proper nutrition to do her job of going to school, learning and doing the best she can.

When did the inmates start running the assylum?! As a child there were lots of foods on my plate I didn’t like, and didn’t always eat. However, there isn’t much I won’t eat as an adult, which I believe is due in great part to my exposure at the dinner table to a variety of foods. This is part of being educated.

Compare my experience with that of a good 30 year old friend who grew up poor in our neighborhood. With the exception of greens, collards, mustard, etc, she doesn’t eat any vegetables and barely any fruits. When we try to get her to eat something she’s never had she’ll say she doesn’t like it, much like a young kid. I know her tastes well and even when I’ve made something I know she’d like she won’t try it. That response was imprinted in her youth. He mother recently had a stroke and won’t make it to 60 due to diabetes and hypertension. All food related issues.

If you come from a low-income home–that’s 2/3 of the District of Columbia Public School students– where breakfast is Doritos and some colored water and high fructose corn syrup called “juice” purchased at the convenience store on the way to school, with dinner not being much better, where do you learn about food and nutrition? More importantly where do you get good nutritious food? Certainly not in the school cafeteria where it’s more about cheap commodities, branding and growing future consumers of product.

Sorry but I don’t believe this is a place to compromise. The people reading and commenting on school food blogs are generally well educated and well fed, that includes Ed and I, so this is an intellectual exercise to some degree for us. I’m more concerned with poor kids who have far fewer options and often poorer parenting.

I am a firm believer that no child offered food ever starved to death. Eventually they will eat it after waging a protest. You’re a kid, you don’t get to make the rules. Period.

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Justin Gagnon April 28, 2011 at 10:21 pm

The biggest challenge here is that foodservice directors from low-income schools are primarily motivated by one thing – participation. Depending on the menu planning approach used for NSLP, if a child doesn’t take enough components, the meal isn’t reimbursable. For a while, the only thing the USDA is looking at is fat cal %, calories (it’s a calorie MINIMUM, at that), protein (gram minimum). The ingredient statement didn’t matter, it was all about the nutrition facts label. It’s like the hyperbole of what Michael Pollan refers to as “nutritionism”. When my company was searching for menu planning software to do Nutrient Standard Menu Planning, NONE of the USDA-approved software packages even had a column for grams of sugar on the ingredient – only total carbs and fiber. Even the USDA’s own database that was the foundation for these software packages didn’t store grams of sugar for ingredients.

So not only are the rules of the game screwed up, but in low-income neighborhoods, foodservice directors are fighting an uphill battle of child preferences because of what they kids are eating at home. If they’re drinking a sugar water “juice drink” on the way to school and snacking on Frito’s afterschool, how is a director going to get them to eat quinoa while they’re in school? For some kids, it may be their only meal of the day, so they’ll take what they’re given. But for those just about that level who qualify for reimbursement but are used to junk food in the home, the district isn’t going to get them to bite unless they can serve them food they relate to. We all saw season 1 of JO’s Food Revolution. Many of those kids didn’t care what was in the blender – form it like a chicken nugget and fry it, and it’s all of a sudden accessible and familiar to them.

I wish the system was not setup this way. But the inmates run the asylum because foodservice directors have to placate them in order to get them to take a meal so they can get their reimbursement dollars. Until we change the way score is kept in the NSLP, the primary motivator for districts is going to continue to be “do whatever it takes to maximize participation at the lowest cost possible”.

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Teacher/Parent May 4, 2011 at 8:23 am

I totally disagree with you that your child gained weight from school food….my child eats a school lunch every single day, since he started school and is now a 9th grader…he is 5’7″ and weighs about 124 Lbs……he drinks chocolate milk every day also…which we encourage for the calcium and vitamin D. The fresh fruits and Veggies he gets at school every day are ones that we can’t afford to buy and eat every day at school……he eats breakfast and lunch each day since we are on reduced priced meals and its a very healthy breakfast and lunch! And that being poor and obese thing don’t fly with me either….one of his best friends is very….very well off and he is so overweight its hard not to say something to his parents……and this child eats a home packed lunch almost every day….and get this…his parents pack him soda!! That school lunch is causing kids to be obese just don’t fly in my book…..its what they eat mostly outside of school and lack of exercise and lack of parenting!

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Michele Hays May 5, 2011 at 8:33 am

To the school lunch advocates: unfortunately, there is good science behind the idea that school lunch in and of itself promotes obesity, even when you control for parental behavior. See this study:http://harrisschool.uchicago.edu/about/publications/working-papers/pdf/wp_05_13.pdf

And this article about obesity in Mexico and lunch at school: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/14/world/americas/14mexico.html

However, it’s not any single part of school lunch, it’s the cumulative effect- it’s not just the flavored milk, it’s the flavored milk AND the canned fruit AND the pancakes…AND the corn chips – but, most of all, it’s the imprimatur of an educational institution on a diet comprised of food that’s impossible to distinguish from foods of minimal nutritional value.

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Justin Gagnon May 5, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Michele,

Drawing the conclusion that “school lunch in and of itself promotes obesity” from one research paper by an associate professor is preposterous. It’s this type of mentality that gets parents in this country all fired up and ready to grab the pitchfork when in fact, they may have no idea what’s going on in their own backyard with their school lunch program.

Not all school lunch programs are created equal. In fact, there are vast differences in how programs are run, the types of ingredients they use, their prep/cooking facilities, and the level of training provided to the staff. I run a private company that has our own kitchens and our meals have a higher price point. But there are public districts out there working to do the right thing that have actually put together some pretty solid programs (check out Miguel Villareal at Novato Unified for one).

I go back to my point about the “rules of the game” though. The NSLP has a menu analysis methodology known as “Nutrient Standard Menu Planning” (NSMP) that requires a calorie MINIMUM for a meal. Additionally, the NSMP minimum for a grade range of K-6 is 664 calories. Basically, a Kindergartener is given the same volume of food as a 6th grader.

Weight gain is a factor of both how much you eat AND what you eat. There are definitely school lunch programs that deserve a high level of scrutiny, and the “heat and serve factory food” mentality that is present in many school food operations needs to change. But saying “school lunch in and of itself promotes obesity” is an overstated sweeping generalization.

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Louise Goldberg, RD April 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I love this post. Ah Bettina, couldn’t you just play by the rules and be on board with the angry mob! :-) As a pedi dietitian, I can tell you that I do NOT outright *recommend* flavored milk to patients…BUT (in fine print) if there is a deficiency bc child won’t drink anything else and we start noticing things like chronic broken bones, you can bet I’m going to do everything I can to REALISTICALLY help parents correct the problem with no harm done. And what is this fight BASED ON? You know I always want some research to back up the argument against. Is it based on obesity? Nope. Did you know that there is NO difference in BMI among children who drink chocolate milk and unflavored milk? [Again, let me be very clear--just like you, in NO WAY do I promote flavored milk. I just want to promote facts.]

I love that you pointed out that there are so many other battles in the kid food world. How about some of those non-nutritive added sugar foods! I teach my patients to evaluate food by what it provides to them…e.g. in this case: nutrients in chocolate cake? not so much. nutrients in chocolate milk? heck yeh: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, protein, magnesium. And let’s keep in mind that 1 cup of regular unflavored milk originally starts with 12 grams of naturally occurring sugar (lactose) so to equate it to soda is preposterous. Middle of the road solution: reformulated flavored milk! Milk processors in CA are already offering lower sugar, non-fat flavored milk! Why are we not jumping all over this? The current version everywhere else does not HAVE to have that much added sugar (4-5 additional teaspoons/1 cup milk)! At home, if your kid wants a little chocolate milk every now and then, start with a cup of unflavored milk and add 2 tsp chocolate syrup (the no HFCS one, of course) per cup. It’s plenty sweet and brown and they’ll be perfectly happy. with strong bones. ;-)
http://www.anappleadaynutrition.com/An_Apple_A_Day_Nutrition/Blog/Entries/2011/3/22_Awww%2C_That’s_So_Sweet!.html

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Louise April 28, 2011 at 12:50 pm

WOOPS…just went back and more slowly read the post. I didn’t catch the ‘middle ground’ paragraph the 1st time around! I just got fired up and scrolled to the bottom of the comments! ;-)

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Sam Boutelle April 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I feel that Bruske AKA Slow Cook has it right. Milk in general has long been over-hyped by the dairy industry. Dairy products enjoy strong support within government, and the industry has sponsored many studies, and many dietary societies, in order to remain relevant–see Marion Nestle’s Food Politics for a study of scientific and regulatory capture by the food industry.

Calcium, and most other important nutrients, have long been supplied through fortified foods: flours, cereal, and beverages. One cup of vanilla-flavored soy milk, for instance, contains more calcium–299 mg vs. 288 mg than–than one cup of low-fat chocolate milk with only 7g of sugar compared to chocolate’s 25g.

Milk has issues beyond sugar and calories (factory farms, environmental damage, necessary destruction of male calves) that sour the product. Flavored milk is by no means the worst offense in school lunch, but Jamie has and is tackling other culprits. He’s right to pluck this low-hanging fruit as he also alerts parents to other indignities in school food.

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Ed Bruske April 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Bettina, if you read more closely, the group of concern is actually girls 9-14, and the amount they are “deficient” in calcium is less than that contained in a serving of string cheese. Beyond that, most of the world’s kids seem to get along just fine without drinking milk. How could that be? As Harvard’s Dr. Willett says, there’s no evidence of an outbreak of bone fractures in children.

And as far as those medical groups are concerned, follow the trail of “research” behind them. For instance, the lead writer on the American Heart Association’s statement on added sugars and children is the same Rachel K. Johnson who wrote all the papers the dairy industry cites as grounds for supporting flavored milk in school, the same former dean of the ag school in Vermont who describes herself as an advisor to Big Dairy. This is all about money and propping up the dairy industry.

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Uly May 2, 2011 at 9:54 am

Indeed, there is evidence that although milk has a lot of calcium, it is not very bioavailable. The calcium is there, but our bodies can’t use it.

Worse, milk takes calcium from our bones even as it adds some in!

It’s not just the sheer quantity of calcium we get, but whether or not it does any good in our bodies.

People are concerned about osteoporosis. Well, one significant way to help ward off osteoporosis is to take up weight training. Weight training builds stronger muscles, and it builds stronger bones as well. But I’ve never seen any move saying that children (especially girls) between the ages of 9 and 18 should work with free weights a few times a week in lieu of gym. (Heck, we have a hard enough time even getting them to HAVE a gym class a few times a week!)

No, it’s always milk, milk, milk.

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Renee April 28, 2011 at 5:49 pm

I love milk –plain milk, although chocolate milk is also tasty, and hot chocolate (milk) with a dollop of real whipped cream is heavenly.

However, I just don’t think cows milk is in any way *necessary* for humans. My daughter (10 yrs) drinks only small amounts of milk, and not every day, but she’s not calcium-deficient (nor is she eating lots of greens, or too much cheese). She prefers water over milk as a thirst-quencher, and I think that’s the healthiest thing she could do. (Of course, we don’t have juice or soda in the house very often, so those aren’t really options.)

I think the dairy industry has sold the medical industry a bill of goods, and they’re working hard to keep the status quo. I think kids should have the option of white milk or a bottle of water for school lunch.

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Louise Goldberg, RD April 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Renee,
I would like to suggest that you continue to keep a close eye on your daughter’s calcium status because the negative side-effects of little to no calcium sources in your diet may not show up for a while. I am not paid by the dairy industry. I am a board certified specialist in pediatric nutrition. It is irresponsible for anyone to mislead you and tell you a calcium-rich diet is a ‘bill of goods sold [...] by the dairy industry’. From a physiological standpoint, if you do not keep adequate stores of calcium in your blood, your body will pull it from your bones and teeth. You may not notice it today or a month from today but that day will come. It’s ok not to do dairy if that’s your belief, as long as she gets calcium from other sources. Feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to send you a detailed list of calcium-rich foods (non-dairy too) if you want more info.
Louise Goldberg RD, CSP, LD, CNSC

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Renee April 29, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Louse, I didn’t mean to leave the impression that my daughter isn’t getting enough calcium –she eats a well-rounded diet, which includes some dairy, including cheese and yogurt. However, a large part of the worlds population doesn’t drink cows milk, and they’re not all falling over from broken bones.

The dairy industry has a great market here –the kids don’t have a choice of what to drink. Additionally, the milk served is often past it’s due date, even to the point of being spoiled. I think kids should have a choice between unflavored milk and water –maybe it would at least make the dairy industry pay a little more attention to the quality of the milk they supply, since I’ll bet a lot of kids would choose water.

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Bettina Elias Siegel April 28, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I want to thank everyone who took the time to provide their views on this post (or who will do so later on.) Whatever your feelings about flavored milk, these are all thoughtful comments which add to a meaningful discussion.

My overarching intent in writing this post was not to nitpick on calcium vs. sugar since, as I admit up front, I am not a nutritionist, nor am I particularly plugged in to the behind the scenes politics that might be influencing those professionals who advocate for flavored milk (although I appreciate Ed Bruske’s writing on that issue).

Instead, I’m just a parent, muddling my way through, trying to figure out how to balance all the conflicting advice. For example, the two pediatricians I’ve asked believe I should be giving flavored milk regularly to my son, a non-milk-drinker. Yet I have my own concerns about sugar, so I limit the milk to an occasional treat, but then worry about his calcium intake since he also avoids leafy greens and canned fish. All I can do I push yogurt and cheese and hope for the best.

My primary goal in writing this post was just to say this: if even this group of commenters, all of whom are no doubt far better informed than the average parent, can’t agree on this issue, wouldn’t we all have been better served if J.O. had chosen an issue that unifies us, rather than divides us?

School food reform is hard enough to achieve when the reformers are on the same page. If we can’t even agree on the goal we’re trying to achieve, it’s going to be impossible.

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Ed Bruske April 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Actually, no, Bettina. We wouldn’t be better off. As my wife likes to say, there’s no resolution with conflict. As soon as we can resolve that kids shouldn’t be served sugar in school to get them to eat (or drink) the better of the school meals program and our children will be. If Los Angeles–the nation’s second-largest school district–indeed decides to remove flavored milk from schools come fall, we may indeed be close to deciding this issue for good.

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Becky Dokomos-Bays April 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm

As a Registered Dietitian, I know how important it is for kids to have calcium in their diets, and there is no better source for calcium than milk. Too many kids in my school district and across the country only drink milk at school. I’ve seen young children bringing sugary sports drinks or full calorie sodas into school or buying them after-school – many of these kids just won’t drink white milk. That’s why I’ve been working with our local dairy to reformulate our flavored milk. We tested a lower sugar, skim variety using cocoa powder instead of high fructose corn syrup, and the students like it. The dairy has also eliminated artificial colors, and their cows are not treated with growth hormones. Many of my colleagues across the country are also working with their dairies to bring sugar levels down. Since USDA’s proposed nutrition standards sets new limits on calories served to students, this trend will spread.

Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS
Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Alexandria City Public Schools, VA
School Nutrition Association member

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Amy H April 29, 2011 at 10:34 am

“But because he’s already gotten God only knows how much at school, it limits what he can have at home.”

This is so true. My husband does a lot of the cooking at home and I do most if not all of the baking. I love making homemade treats for my kids because I know exactly what is in them, and they love what I make. But because their teachers reward them with candy on an almost daily basis (especially my 4-year-old), and there is a birthday party nearly every week (or so it seems), I don’t want them to have much sugary stuff at home even though I know mine is better. It’s really taking away parental choice when they are given junk at school. I don’t love flavored milk, but I agree with others who have said it’s the least of the school food problems.

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Teacher/Parent May 4, 2011 at 8:26 am

Then tell your childs teacher you don’t want them to have any of the treats…its really that simple…….we do have some in my classroom and if a parent requests their student not have a treat, we have a different room all those children are sent to for a few minutes….not a problem but if you don’t tell us we don’t know!

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Sarah June 6, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Many of us would say that there is a problem with isolating a portion of young students from the rest of the class and wasting school time by feeding children nutritionally worthless foods. School is supposed to be about education, not junk food. It’s certainly not supposed to be about teaching children that making good food choices means you get ostracized while everyone else enjoys their goodies.

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Sarah Masoni April 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm

No one has commented on why kids don’t drink plain milk at school. I am a trained Dairy Products Judge, and competed in College in an International Competition, and here are my comments on “why kids don’t drink plain milk.”
1) It doesn’t taste good, because of temperature abuse.
2) The milk that is not handled properly becomes awful tasting and it keeps in rotation because of dates on the cartons, no one tastes it to see if it is still drinkable.
3) If it has added flavors and sugar, the off flavors and temperature abuse issues are masked.
4)If we make kids drink stuff that isn’t thirst quenching and it tastes bad, why would they repeat the experience. Repeating a bad experience is the definition of insanity. Kids are smarter than that.
5) It doesn’t take a kid very long to figure out that there isn’t time to have a bathroom break during school and if they drink things that need to use the restroom more often.
6) Kids are not only fat because of what they are getting in school food systems, it is also because of them not getting enough water to stay hydrated. Kids need lots of water.

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Bettina Elias Siegel May 2, 2011 at 8:55 am

Sarah – very important points! Chef Ann Cooper agrees with you, I think, in that she always makes clear that serving milk COLD in a dispenser is critical to getting kids to drink it.

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S. Torres April 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I don’t think this is so much a matter of whether there are much larger or important issues regarding the state of school lunch food but rather just a good place to start. In my opinion, there are greater battles to wage, but changing a system isn’t about only or first choosing the biggest issues to fight for. Sometimes getting the smaller issues out of the way gives us a better advantage for making those “bigger” and “better” things happen down the road (which is where Jamie Oliver seems to be headed).

I also don’t have an answer about whether we should or shouldn’t be drinking cow’s milk, but I’m definitely curious. If so many kids don’t like the taste of plain cow’s milk, maybe it’s because their palates have been forever changed (spoiled…damaged…?) due to flavored milk consumption or because we as a species shouldn’t be drinking cow’s milk. Or maybe there are reasons yet to be discovered. There are equally as many proponents of drinking cow’s milk as there are opponents. Regardless, I don’t see that as the main topic here.

Ultimately, Jamie Oliver is trying to make some much needed changes in this country. Maybe flavored milk seems an inadequate or ineffective starting point, but maybe if we can get people to think about this, they’ll be willing to look at all the other pieces that make up the unhealthy puzzle. I’m proud of Jamie Oliver for his courage, and I’m proud of all the other people who sacrifice, take risks, and stand up for the kids in this country whose voices cannot yet be heard.

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Rachael Warrington May 3, 2011 at 8:08 am

I could not agree more. I am a food service manager and I face this issue everyday. I really agree with the “why” of the milk only. There are so many other real issue with in the food world of school. You have to balance things. I can offer all the raw brocoli, celery, carrots I want….the kids will not eat it. We just throw it away. And just because I put more on their tray, does not mean they will eat it. I agree we need to make better food, but parents need to learn to feed thier own children better and stop forgetting they are the adults in this picture.

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Natalie @ Ambrolio Foods May 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm

A few thoughts:

1) The majority of school food served today sorely lacks in taste and nutrition. As Bettina pointed out, milk is just one small part of the problem.

2) For Jamie Oliver, the chocolate milk controversy represents “low-hanging fruit,” i.e., it’s a problem that’s easier to address than some of the other issues with school food.

3) ADDED SUGAR in chocolate milk is an issue.

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..

4) Calcium is important in one’s diet, but not necessarily from milk.

A number of researchers ( T. Colin Campbell – The China Study, Mark Hegsted – Harvard professor etc..) and scientific studies over the past 100 years indicate that:

a) increased protein intake from animal sources (milk and meat) lead to significant increases in urinary calcium excretion. (i.e., loss of calcium)

b) countries that have the highest consumption of milk also have the highest incidence of hip fractures and the worst bone health as they age.

Overall, the flavored milk controversy raises some deeper points for discussion.

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Tim May 4, 2011 at 9:40 am

Lots ado about nothing… Two teaspoons or so of corn sweetener in flavored milk once a day isn’t going to hurt any student during the 180 days in a school year. So Jamie, does the naturally occuring milk sugars in the milk also cause massive harm to our students too? Tisk, tisk…So much to do, yet so much of my time is wasted by these types of non-scienitific based distractions.

Here is the bottom line to offset Jamie’s sugar bus theory: I serve 4.5 million milks a school year to my students in the NSLP and SBP. If I banned flavored milk (I already have breakfast only-Thank’s a lot, Jamie) my milk consumption will drop 30% annually (Jamie’s didn’t yours drop over 35%+ in your WV season). Therefore I will serve my students approx. 1.35 million less milks next school year. That makes a lot of nutrition sense!

I will have to admit, it is extremely tempting to drop flavored milk from my menu as I will then save .23 cents per milk. This would save my budget $310,000 in food costs!

However, the bottom line is this- milk is more than a calicum source. Its high in protein, rioflavin, A, D, etc, etc and many other nutrients a growing child needs. Last time I checked, my mission in my job was to provide needed nutrition to my students…

Yet I still am being bullied into providing a nutritious lunch everyday. Yet even the most nutritious of the lunches are worthless if the child does not want to buy it to eat. Banning flavored milk will provide only a decrease in students purchasing healthy meals. Thus once again, further decreasing the overall nutritient intake of my students.

I’ll take over nutrition over no nutrition since a hungry child can’t learn.

Rememeber, even a free lunch child does not have to take a lunch if they don’t want to. Flavored milk ecourages the free child to purchase a lunch everyday so they benefits from the many nutritients it supplies.

This morning I emailed three parents answering their questions concerning my policy of serving flavored milk. Two demanded me not to ban it and one thought I was the anti-Christ because I haven’t already banned it. The shame from this senerio is, I have so many other, more productive things I could be doing to improve the overall qualitity of my school meals. Yet I am tied to a computer responding to flavor milk questions.

Don’t get me wrong, I am more than happy to communicate with my parent stakeholders; however, is flavored milk really an evil? Or is it just a catalyst for Jamie to increase his decreasing veiwership on a very uninteresting show. Heck, I work in School Nutrition and I don’t even watch it. Maybe Jamie needs to find a better “hook”; one with some real credibility to it.

Oh yeah, I somehow missed Jaime’s credentials- can someone share with me where his Ph.D in Nutrition came from? Which University was it?

Again, I am curious- How many hours again does a Chef need in Nutrition to become a Certified Chef? How excactly does that make them more knowledgable than a RD as a credible nutrition resource?

Move on Chefs, move on.

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David Lawrence Dewey May 4, 2011 at 9:21 pm

This is author and columnist, David Lawrence Dewey. I have been writing about the dangers of hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, excess sugar in processed food and other toxins in the food supply since 1996. I was the first journalist to warn consumers about hydrogenated oils and aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, excess sugars in processed foods and other artificial sweeteners in 1996.

Someone posted that two teaspoons of high fructose corn syrup in a glass of milk is not that bad. Well, yes it is, because it is actually 4 teaspoons in one small carton of chocolate or strawberry flavored milk. And the problem is, the flavoring is artificial as well. And HFC is in nearly everything, especially processed foods.

First, high fructose corn syrup is NOT like sugar as the commercials want you to believe. I explain all that in my column. There are 4 teaspoons of HFC in one small carton of chocolate or strawberry flavored milk. And the other problem is, the flavoring is artificial as well. And HFC is in nearly everything, especially processed foods.

I have written an extensive article about this fiasco with the LAUSD school district and I show by actual school menu items, what is in the food the school district is serving and how deadly they are. One lunch item has over 1,400 MG of sodium. This has been kept from students, parents for too long. You can read it on my website at:

What is the Los Angeles Unified School District
Feeding The Students?
Is Jaime Oliver Correct? – Yes – Here Is Why
http://www.dldewey.com/lausd.htm

Hydrogenated Oils-Silent Killers
http://www.dldewey.com/hydroil.htm

I first wrote this column in 1996 to warn consumers, and
it has been continuously updated with the latest research since.

Also, sugar free milk? Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame/Equal and Splenda are more deadly that sugar.

Read my article: Aspartame – Sweetness or Death? http://www.dldewey.com/aspar.htm

Also, check out the new documentary, inGREEDients, that I was
the content, creative and journalistic consultant on. Jaime Oliver
has picked it as one of his 7 favorite films. It has won (5) film awards.

http://www.dldewey.com/ingreed.htm

If you are a reader of the The Lunch Tray, if you order the DVD and put my name DEWEY in the company field name, you will get (2) DVD’s of the documentary for the price of (1). You can then give the 2nd DVD to a family member as a gift to help spread the word about the dangers of hydrogenated oils and other toxins in the food supply.

If you are a student, I ask you to please read this article and the links to my other articles on the deadly toxins in processed food and how children as young as ten are developing diabetes, heart disease,learning problems because of poor diet. Email your friends about my article and if you have one of these diseases I would like to hear from you. You can contact me through my website.

Jaime Oliver is trying to save lives, just as I have since 1996, let him in the schools!

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Teacher/Parent May 5, 2011 at 6:50 am

We would love to have HIM in the schools….just don’t need the TV camera’s and fan fare…….Reality TV is hardly reality TV…they edit it to make it go how they want it to look….real reality TV would be LIVE on the spot and that will never happen…..JO is a TV personality trying to make a buck like everyone else…..we have Choc. milk in our school and our obesity rate is below average!! Poor Argument both you and he make!

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Shauna May 4, 2011 at 11:21 pm

My solution is to start next years Kindergarteners with white milk only. As they progress through the system by the time they are in 12th grade all milk will be white milk.

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Parent/Nurse May 5, 2011 at 6:53 am

Here is the problem with that Shauna……1/3 of the kids we get in our schools are already obese by the time they start school….it happens at home, not at school! Be a parent and take control of YOUR child, not everybodys children are obese and if they want Chocolate Milk let them….we still live in America right??? Where we get to make our OWN choices!!

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Jess May 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Shauna, how would the school keep flavored milk from the other grades while they are in school with this class of Kindergartners? Will they eat lunch separately?

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Uly June 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

It wasn’t until high school that I ever ate lunch with more than one grade. Don’t most elementary schools serve lunch to only one or two grades at a time?

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Jess June 15, 2011 at 9:11 am

I don’t know what “most” elementary schools do. If that’s the case, then no problem. My elementary school had one combination room for auditorium/gym/lunchroom. With seven grades in the school and sharing that space for other activities, there might have been more than one lunch period, but I don’t believe there was one for each grade. For middle school, it was based on schedule and not separated by grade level.

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lindtfree May 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I am a longtime lacto-vegetarian who knows I should be vegan for ethical/environmental reasons, and probably health reasons as well. However, I am a lifelong milk “addict” (as is my spouse, and now apparently one of my nephews), and have never understood children who don’t like white milk. I loved it much more than chocolate milk, even as a child. My mother allowed me to buy lowfat chocolate milk at the grocery store when I wanted it, which wasn’t very often.

Why do so many children (even preschoolers who have never been exposed to flavored milk) dislike white milk? I am reasonably certain that most people over age two would refuse breast milk or infant formula, but some form of white milk is, after all, every mammal’s first food.

Before schools ban chocolate milk, they should ban all soda sales and most juice sales, as soda is entirely worthless/detrimental and juice is essentially sugar water, sometimes with vitamin C added (if children need vitamin C and won’t regularly eat vegetables and fruits, give them vitamins instead of juice). Once the micronutrient-free beverages are gone from schools, they can then focus on eliminating or reducing chocolate milk.

How do others feel about serving chocolate milk in schools only an occasional basis, such as every Friday or only on the last day of school before a holiday?

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SgtMom May 29, 2011 at 11:42 am

My kid wants heroin. I see nothing wrong with giving him heroin – I enjoy it myself.

What’s wrong with freedom of choice?

My kid’s grandmother is in her mid 80′s and disease free. Has never had a serious disease in her life.

I haven’t either.

My kids have no allergies, no asthma, no “special needs”.

Think we’ll all load up on the flavored milk to celebrate.

…Or maybe not. I just wouldn’t want to be like you.

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Bettina Elias Siegel May 29, 2011 at 3:21 pm

SgtMom – Not totally sure what your point is here, since I’m actually advocating that we consider preserving parents’ choice, since so many support flavored milk in schools. Regardless, though, I want to mention that one hallmark of The Lunch Tray is the civil, respectful tone in the comments section, even among readers who vehemently disagree. I don’t like censoring anyone but, in the future, please use the same tone and language with which you’d like to be addressed, or don’t expect your comment to appear here. Thanks.

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lucout June 7, 2011 at 10:38 am

1. JO might be focusing on flavored milk at school as it sppeared on TV, but does it mean he doesn’t care what other unhealthy food exists at school? I personally think he is trying to do what he can do. Not he doesn’t want to focus on other stuff.
2. If the “flavor” in flavored milk is natural, non-artificial, I wouldn’t have much problem with it (except sugar). However, it’s not it’s not it’s not.

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rachelsurbanfarmhouse June 7, 2011 at 11:30 am

Robyn, If they don’t drink the milk because it doesn’t have the sugar in it, and the quantity of milk being drank goes down so be it. If I think bread is good for my children, then feeding them cake sandwiches is ok, because they get the benefit of the “bread” along with sugar & everything else? Not at all, better to refrain from eating it, than eating it everyday with tons of additives, sugar, etc. If a elementary school student has not been taught at home to eat healthy (or even is), and you give him/her a choice between a candy bar and a sandwich. Which one will they choose? I’m all for educating the parents, but if we can take soda out of schools, why not this milk? Why bag JO when he is on the side of health? Each step to healthy eating is better for our children. You have to start out with small changes to make way for big ones IMHO.

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Bettina Elias Siegel June 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Rachel – just to be clear, Robyn McCord O’Brien was kind enough to link to this post on Facebook but she’s not the author (and I’m guessing she might disagree with me, too.) This blog, The Lunch Tray, is written by me – Bettina Elias Siegel. You can read more about who I am and what TLT is about here.

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deborah June 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm

couldn’t agree more!! way bigger and more un-healthier issues to deal with as far as school lunches go. Leave flavored milk alone!

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Chuck June 18, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I’m in Houston and this is just becoming a hot issue here, so I’m a little late on this post. Just want to say that I can’t believe so many people are against the idea of this guy trying to help us out. As somewhat expected, big-time negative comments/reception down here to his ideas. GO JAMIE, more power to you brotha, change is inevitable! Bring it down here next!!

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Bettina Elias Siegel June 19, 2011 at 6:43 am

Chuck – not sure if you’ve been reading TLT for a while, but I’m on the Food Services Parent Advisory Committee here in Houston that’s trying to get changes made. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if JO had sought permission to film in Houston’s central kitchen. After the Huntington, WVA season, I’m guessing that HISD would have refused to allow it just like LAUSD. (When I asked to take still photos of food at a local high school here in Houston, HISD Media Relations Dept. was NOT keen on this idea and it took a lot of haggling to allow even that!) Thanks for coming by TLT, and please come back.

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Cath July 5, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Does anyone have any knowledge of what the added sugar does to the bio-avaliability of any calcium present in the milk? Sugar affects vitamin D absorption. How could it not affect calcium absorption.
Human-cow milk consumption itself is an interesting subject. What other animal on the planet consumes milk from another species? What other animal on the planet consumes milk full-stop after they themselves have been weened? Does it not strike anyone as peculiar that we as humans are drinking another animals milk, meant for its young, who are to grow to a rather large size. Much larger than humans are suppose to grow.
Through my work in dairies I was lead to these questions. I was also turned off milk as a result of witnessing the filth that is sucked up along-side the milk that our children drink. This is also prior to the processing the product goes through once it leaves the dairies. How much nutrient is actually left once it hits the supermarket shelf? Is their any damage done to the nutrients from the raw product. The dairy industry has a lot of control over what it writes on the packaging. How much of this is ‘accurate’?
I would prefer my children to have more access to drinking water than offer them milk of any sort at school. It should be a parents choice of whether their child consumes milk, not the schools, or the ‘nutrition’ board. I dont believe it is necessary for anyones diet. A spread of tahini has more calcium in it than a glass of processed cows milk.

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Bettina Elias Siegel July 6, 2011 at 7:42 am

Cath: I’ll leave the bio-availability issue to those more knowledgeable than I, and I certainly understand your many reasons for not wanting your child to drink milk in school. My response would be, that’s fine, and your child isn’t required to take the milk by any regulation. He/she can just skip it on the line. But there are many parents who DO want milk in school, including even the dreaded flavored milk. While that “live-and-let-live argument” doesn’t fly with me when it comes to truly non-nutritive foods like sugary birthday treats in the classroom or junk food in cafeterias, I think there’s enough evidence (or at least controversy) over the nutritive value of milk that I’d keep it available. But as for water, schools are now going to have to provide drinking water in cafeterias, although implementing what seems like such a simple requirement is proving rocky for some schools and some are claiming that they need more time to figure out how to do it in a cost-effective way. Thanks for commenting here!

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Kate September 5, 2011 at 12:10 am

1)If kids don’t like milk, why can’t they have water with their meal instead. If we are worried about calcium intake, can’t we provide other ways for the kids to get calcium?

2)I think our bodies metabolize sugar delivered in a liquid form(flavored milk, juice, soda) more quickly than when it is in solid foods.

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Karen Le Billon November 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Great blog — really thoughtful, and balanced. My personal view is that flavored milk should be banned, because schools are a place where we should teach children to eat well. This means: teaching them that they DON’T need to have flavors or sweeteners in order to enjoy eating healthy food. That’s the approach in France, where no schools have flavored milk.

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Bettina Elias Siegel November 8, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Thank you, Karen, for the kind words, and I do respect your views on this one. Interestingly, here in HISD we have lowered the sugar content of the milk (something I suggest in the post) and my son tells me that the kids who drink it no longer like it! So we may be getting rid of flavored milk by attrition instead of by ban. I hope to get some data from my district on how much of the flavored milk is now being taken and may post about that in the future.

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Kat Sisu December 11, 2011 at 10:51 am

I’ve read both sides of the argument and all your comments, but I am shocked no one has brought this up yet. What we want out of milk is readily accessible vitamins like calcium right? So GIVE KIDS VITAMINS. The tablets. I’m milk-intolerant, meaning I hate the flavor. But I’m 28 now with no calcium deficiency problems what-so-ever because my parents were good enough to give me vitamins when I was growing up.

Here, I’ll give you an argument too: Vitamins aren’t cheap.
My answer is: yes they are. If you drank a can of soda each day, you’d be spending approximately $7.50 on sugar. However, a two-month supply of Calcium caplets from GNC ranges from 8.99(on sale) to 12.49. Even at it’s peak price you’re looking at a 6.25 per month for an essential nutrient.

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Bettina Elias Siegel December 12, 2011 at 10:23 am

Kat:

Well, that’s fine for individual parents to do (although my own doctor just told me to STOP taking calcium supplements based on a recent study linking calcium supplementation to, I think, heart disease.) But are you suggesting we actually pass out vitamin pills to kids on the lunch line? If so, I just don’t see that kind of overt “medication” of children by the state going over too well with parents, even if it’s benign and/or beneficial. We might fortify food and everyone’s fine with it, but handing out tablets or pills would, I believe, cause a big outcry. So for kids whose parents aren’t as conscientious as yours were, milk at school is one way to ensure they’re getting some calcium and vitamin D in their diets. That’s my take, anyway.

And thank you for commenting here – I love when new readers find older posts and keep the conversation going!

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Charlotte January 8, 2012 at 9:25 am

I am also a fellow Texas. I am not worried about my child having a carton of chocolate milk when he wants it. I am more concerned with a school system that has to buy filler packed foods and pass them off as healthy. Come on…. since when did preshaped by products become healthy? When did a chili dog become healthier than a hamburger? At least flavored milk has more needed nutrients than a piece of meat that is 30% meant and 70% fillers. There are so many bigger fish to fry than you believe…We live in a rural area of Texas and our children dont have books….They literally have a classroom set of books, and are told to do their work on the internet…guess what… over 80% of the schools population do not have access to internet.
I could go forward, but the original post was chocolate milk…come on… parents need to take a stand and let the schools know that you will decide what your children will and will not eat!

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Jacquelyn Pekar February 16, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Milk in any form should be banned. We have too many studies now that link milk with diabetes and cancers. Pediatricians are also recommending that milk should not be given to babies. Period. What a shame that more people are not educated about this very important issue!

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