No doubt, chocolate milk can confuse parents. It’s one of the most FAQ (frequently asked questions) I get: Is chocolate milk good or bad for my child?
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 it in a child’s diet, and in the end, I hope you will have enough information to feel good about your stance, whatever it may be.
Chocolate milk is considered a flavored milk and the addition of chocolate adds sugar, calories, and a boost of sweet flavor. Many children enjoy chocolate milk at lunch, but the school lunch program has been scrutinized for making this beverage part of the daily fare for children.
The Good Things in Chocolate Milk:
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 disregard the important nutrients present in chocolate milk. Parents, consider this–there are good nutrients to be had, especially calcium and vitamin D, which are consumed inadequately across all age groups (except children under age 2) and all demographics.
You may be interested in checking out The Calcium Handbook: Over 100 Ways to Grow Healthy Bones for Your Child.
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 consumption is higher in schools when flavored milk is offered.
As a Recovery Drink after Sports
Chocolate milk has been studied as a post-exercise recovery drink, and from all indicators, it has a positive impact on muscle recovery, and replenishment of glycogen stores in muscle tissue. From soccer players to cyclists, it appears that, when consumed after prolonged exercise, chocolate milk positive effects on the body’s ability to recover. Parents of athletes take note: 8-10 oz appears to do the trick.
Note: I cover the research and role of chocolate milk in young athlete’s diets in my book, Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete.
The Bad Things in Chocolate Milk
It is true with ANYTHING we eat–too much is too much, and this goes for flavored 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, but be mindful of the portion size and frequency of offering it. Last, be conscious of the recommendations for sugar (less than 10% of total caloric intake).
For You To Decide
Schools and Chocolate Milk
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 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 (aka Nutrients Kids are Falling Short On)
The 2015 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, “Children don’t choose those foods, many parents don’t serve them, so they may not be getting enough.”
How I Approach Chocolate Milk with My Children
I aim for 3 servings of milk/dairy per day. I usually 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 vilify and eliminate flavored milk would mean that I would have to be consistent across the board, and eliminate and vilify 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 flavored 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.
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