Think back: Can you imagine school lunch with no chocolate milk? Many can, and some schools have made the thought a reality in an effort to make school lunches healthier for students.
However, the efforts may have been misguided. Researchers from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab surveyed 11 elementary schools in Oregon where chocolate milk had been removed as an option, and found while the students did consume less sugar and calories, they also consumed less protein and calcium.
The students also took 10 percent less milk than when chocolate milk was available, and 29 percent more milk was wasted. Some researchers also feel removing chocolate milk from lunch caused some students to stop eating school provided lunches.
Chocolate milk gets a bad rap for being full of sugar, but it does provide some nutritional benefit. The combination of carbohydrates and protein in chocolate milk make it a good post-workout or after-practice snack and drinking flavored milk is better than drinking no milk at all.
Students not drinking milk is the problem the schools where chocolate milk is banned are now facing. Instead of choosing regular or skim milk, students are picking different beverages entirely and missing out on the nutrition a serving of milk at lunch can provide.
Students aren’t going to get the protein and calcium they need from the soda or juice they may choose if flavored milk is not available.
“Given that the role of the federal school meal program is to provide nutritious meals to students who may otherwise have no access to healthy foods, I wouldn’t recommend banning flavored milk unless you have a comprehensive plan in place to compensate for the lost nutrients when kids stop drinking milk altogether,” former Assistance Director of Nutrition Services for the school district surveyed Nicole Zammit said in a statement.
Instead of banning chocolate and other flavored milk, the Cornell Food and Brand Lab recommends placing non-flavored milk closer to the front of the cooler where students are more likely to take it. They also suggest schools make sure at least one-third to one-half of the milk provided is not flavored.
The chocolate milk debate comes down to picking our nutrition battles. If the worst thing students have with their lunch is a carton of chocolate milk, that’s pretty good. Sure, added sugar is a concern, but at least they’re also getting the nutrients they need.