The Pros and Cons of Chocolate Milk

Chocolate milk can confuse parents…is it good or is it bad for kids?  Given all the publicity around sugar-laden drinks, high fructose corn syrup and obesity, offering chocolate milk to your child can be a confusing prospect!  I will attempt to weigh the pros and cons of chocolate milk in a child’s diet, and in the end, I hope you will have enough information to take the fear out of offering chocolate milk, or confirm the feelings you have.

Chocolate milk is widely accepted by children. It is considered a flavored milk and the addition of chocolate adds sugar, calories, and a boost of sweet flavor.  Many children enjoy the addition of chocolate milk to their lunch, and the school lunch program has been scrutinized for making this beverage part of the daily fare for children.

Pros of Chocolate Milk:

Nutrient Composition: Chocolate milk has an abundance of necessary nutrients that children require for healthy growth and development, including protein, calcium, Vitamin D, and potassium. Unfortunately, we are blinded by sugar!  Many parents hear “chocolate” and think SUGAR and these thoughts may override any common sense with regard to the important nutrients present in chocolate milk.  Parents, consider the weight of the matter–the good nutrients outweigh the sugar.

Taste: Chocolate milk tastes good!  Children like to eat food that tastes good, and that holds true in the case of drinking milk.  Studies have indicated that milk conumption is higher in schools when chocolate milk (or flavored milk) is offered.

Sports nutrition: Chocolate milk has been studied as a post-exercise recovery drink, and from all indicators, chocolate milk has a positive impact on muscle recovery, and replenishment of glycogen stores in muscle tissue.  From soccer players to cyclists, it appears that chocolate milk, when consumed after prolonged  exercise, has positive effects on the body’s ability to recover.  Parents of athletes take note:  8-10 oz of chocolate milk appears to do the trick.

Cons of Chocolate Milk:

Overconsumption: It is true with ANYTHING we eat–too much is too much, and this goes for chocolate milk also.  Too much of a good thing can be bad for your child. Chocolate milk can be part of a healthy and satisfying diet for your child. Aim for three servings of dairy per day, and be conscious of the recommendations for sugar (less than 10% of total caloric intake).

For You To Decide:

Schools: Many schools have eliminated chocolate milk.  Is this the right thing to do?  I am not sure. I am a moderate, so I can see limiting the number of days it is served, and assuring that the type of chocolate milk is a low fat version, but a complete ban?  When chocolate milk is pulled out of schools, overall milk consumption drops by an average of 35%.  Studies suggest that this occurs because fewer students choose milk (clearly their preference was chocolate/flavored over white), and more milk was wasted.  And unfortunately over time, a new and improved acceptance of white milk simply did not occur.

Shortfall Nutrients: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that calcium and Vitamin D continue to be shortfall nutrients (nutrients with inadequate intake) for children.  And a review of calcium intake and status in children indicate that up to 50% of children as young as 2 years are not getting enough calcium.  While the optimist (and dietitian) in me knows that children can get calcium from other sources, the realist in me is saying, “But children don’t choose those foods, many parents don’t serve them, so they aren’t getting enough”.

Here’s how I approach chocolate milk with my own children:

I aim for 3 servings of milk/dairy per day.  I don’t purchase chocolate milk for my home.  If they choose it at school, that’s fine with me, as that will be the only place they will get it (and our school serves low-fat chocolate milk).  I choose to be neutral in my tone, manner and attitude, despite the drastic and emphatic beliefs around me.

To villify and eliminate chocolate milk would mean that I would have to be consistent across the board, and eliminate and villify the flavored coffee that I occasionally drink, the birthday cakes that I serve, the Thanksgiving pie in which I indulge, and the “fun food” (high fat, high sugar treats and junky food) that I provide to my children.  As I see it, making chocolate milk the “bad guy” gets us stuck in the muck, and it becomes difficult to classify and navigate the other foods in our less than perfect diets.  But of course, I like nearly all foods, and want my kids to be open-minded and like them also.

To me, it’s less about chocolate milk, and more about the balance, variety, and amounts of all the foods we serve our children.  Let us be better at teaching our children about choice, variety, balance, and amounts, rather than spending time and energy instilling fear and confusion about chocolate milk.  Time well spent, in my humble, dietitian’s opinion.

Comments

  1. says

    We are big fans of chocolate milk. It’s a “fun” food that my oldest son feels is a “treat”, but I know is chock full of nutrition. I do chose to make my own, using a popular national brand powder… and very truthfully, make it quite “weak.” But it’s the perception & the little bit of added flavor that makes it such a special drink for my 4 year old. Thanks for such a balanced piece with such good perspective!

    • says

      You’re welcome! To vary on the topic a little, I often warm the chocolate milk so that it is a “hot chocolate”–in my opinion, more nutritious than the water-based hot chocolates.

  2. says

    This is a great post Jill! I love how you promote nutritious living to your children. I hope others find your take on chocolate milk as encouraging as I did.

    • says

      Thanks Kati! It’s a balancing act, just like everything with kids! Hopefully, this post will give others some points to think about as they navigate all the “fun foods”.

  3. says

    Jill, I just came back from a high school presentation and heard about students who regularly skip breakfast and lunch and after school when they are famished they head out for fast food. You said it well here it is about moderation.

  4. says

    People who don’t drink chocolate milk, ask your self why don’t u like it? I know because it has to much sugar, but who cares it has the same nutrients that regluar milk has such as calcium and protein, vitamin A, D, B12 and chocolate milk also help help children meet their daliy requirement.

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