The chocolate milk dilemma

I was surprised and excited to read in Simple, Good and Tasty last week that Minneapolis Public Schools has decided to eliminate chocolate milk entirely from its menus starting this summer.  This is a gutsy move by the school district, and I applaud them for taking this step.

Chocolate milk in schools is not a black and white issue – there are some groups who stand to lose from this elimination:  dairy farmers will get less income from the sale of flavored milks, school districts may have less students buying milk overall (reducing revenue for the school’s meal program) and students will have fewer beverage choices – will they suffer nutritionally from chocolate milk’s removal from the menu?

When I circulated this news on Twitter, I received some challenges from people in the dairy industry about the wisdom of this decision, and you can see many dairy farmer comments in reply to Simple, Good and Tasty’s post.

Then, when the Minneapolis Star Tribune posted its article, the news generated a huge number of  comments, many of them very negative.

Frankly, I was a bit flabbergasted by the vitriol flying around about this topic. After reading through the comments,  it’s clear that there’s a segment of the population who abhors anyone telling them what they cannot eat or drink; any restriction of food choices in the name of health is seen as an example of the “nanny state”.   Some said chocolate milk is not the problem, why don’t those kids just get out and exercise.

What gives?


Some thoughts based on my personal experiences with this:

I breastfed both of my children, and while my son took to cow’s milk after I stopped nursing him, my daughter never accepted milk no matter how many times I offered it to her. 

When I spoke to the pediatrician about this, she wasn’t too concerned, saying that you can get calcium from other sources like cheese and yogurt plus certain vegetables and fruits (did you know that there are high amounts of calcium in dark leafy greens like kale and Swiss chard, and even oranges contain some calcium?).  Also, many other foods like juice and packaged items are now fortified with calcium.

She was more concerned about excessive milk consumption and had seen more health issues with kids who drank too much milk.

Still, it has been so ingrained in our culture at this point that “milk does the body good”, that I feel like a deviant at the well-child appointments when the nurse asks me how many glasses of milk my daughter drinks and I say “zero”.  But she is perfectly healthy.


I’m not against dairy products or the dairy industry – hey, I love cheese, yogurt and ice cream as much as anyone else and I use white milk regularly – but I do think that sweetened flavored milk is unnecessary.

I used to think “what’s the big deal about chocolate milk, at least you are getting the nutrients in milk”, but with the various articles I’ve been reading lately about the negative effects of excess sugar consumption, whether sugar is toxic to the body and the role that sugar may play in obesity and chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, my attitude has changed.

Maybe it comes down to your perception of whether excessive sugar in the diet is a problem or not.  As a parent, I’m concerned about the amount of sugar that my kids ingest every day, because it seems to be in practically everything.

Yes, chocolate milk is one small item, but if your kids are possibly having this sugary milk at one or more meals, in addition to sugary breakfast cereal, yogurt, snack crackers, juice, fruit snacks and even good old-fashioned fruit (not to mention cookies, cakes and candies),  the sugar really adds up. 

In the first episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,  he staged a vivid demonstration representing the amount of sugar contained in flavored milks from just one week’s of meals within the LA school district.  Here’s the clip.

I found this demo completely appalling.


Chocolate milk tastes good; of course kids are going to want to drink it. 

Yes, you can teach your kid that chocolate milk is a treat (implying that it’s a special circumstance), but if they get it every day at school lunch (and maybe school breakfast too),  that becomes the de facto expectation. I think it negatively trains the taste buds to expect sweetness in everything.

Parents can certainly offer chocolate milk to their kids at home if they want, nobody is restricting them from doing that.  But I don’t see why the schools need to offer it.

Why do we have to bribe kids to drink milk, anyway?  It seems ridiculous to me.  In the case of my daughter, I’m perfectly fine with her drinking water at meals if she refuses to drink white milk.

The bigger questions to me are:  Can kids be re-trained to drink white milk once they’ve become accustomed to drinking sweetened milk?  If there are no other options besides white milk to drink at school lunches, will kids eventually drink it?

I’m curious to see how this all plays out in the Minneapolis school district.

What are your thoughts about this – is chocolate milk a big deal or not? Do you think chocolate milk should be offered as an option in schools?

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8 thoughts on “The chocolate milk dilemma

  1. Absolutely terrific post, thanks for the link and for being such a smart, thoughtful participant in this discussion.

  2. Using an online tool (calorie counter) I found the following nutrition facts:
    1 cup of chocolate milk has 226 calories (78 calories from fat) and 32.2 grams of sugar.
    1 cup of whole milk has 150-160 calories (72 calories from fat) and 11 g sugar.
    That's triple the amount of sugar and about 75 extra (empty) calories for the same amount of calcium.

  3. Thanks for your kind words, Lee!

    Summer in China 2011, thanks for the nutrition detail. The chocolate milk at my kid's school has 22 g. of sugar & 140 calories, so not as much as that example but still…

    If my kids weren't already bombarded with sugar in so many other places, I'd have less of an issue w/ chocolate milk.

  4. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you, Amy. It's refreshing to read a voice of reason amidst the cacophony of the "nanny state" and the "calcium crisis" contingent. You rock, girlfriend.

  5. I know so many parents who won't let their kids have other sugary drinks but chocolate milk is fine because it's milk?! You know I don't think the government should tell adults what they can & can't eat but children need guidance.

  6. A few months ago, I had my own revelation that my son was being offered chocolate milk twice a day in the St Paul School District. I had a talk with him about making healthy choices and "suggested" he choose chocolate twice a week. Luckily, he has latched on to that idea and things are going great. Who knows how long it will last and what son #2 will do in a few years so here a couple of things I would like to see happen in the future:

    1) A lower calorie option for chocolate milk. I'm not talking Splenda or anything, but how about just using less chocolate? From what I've tasted, there's three times more syrup in there than needed.

    2) It would be great if there was a way to give each kid an "allowance" of chocolate milk each week. My kid uses a pin number to pay for his lunch every day. It seems that this could be tracked somehow. Could it be done cheaply? I don't know. But this way, parents could decided for themselves how much to let their kids have. No "nanny states" and no all-out bans needed.

  7. Chris, I think some dairies have tried to work on reducing the amount of sugar and calories and using actual sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup; they're probably responding to what consumers say they want. But maybe the chocolate could be reduced further? Myself, I loved the chocolate-y-ness of the Cedar Summit milk I bought (pictured above).

    Love the idea of being able to limit the number of chocolate milk purchases at school, but since that would probably be complicated to execute (can you imagine the protests in the school lunch line?), either eliminating chocolate milk completely, or offering it as a special treat – e.g. once a week, once a month, once a quarter, etc. – may make the most sense.

  8. Pingback: School lunches, the sequel | Green Your Plate

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