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Chocolate Milk: Keeping Perspective

This week, another article about chocolate milk graced my desktop, and maybe you noticed it too. The New York Times reported that beginning in September, chocolate milk will be new and improved, touting fewer calories and less sugar. With almost 40% less sugar and about 30 less calories per cup, the hope is that this move will quell disgruntled parents while keeping the milk consumption of kids on par with their health needs.

Whether you agree with this move or not, it’s time for some perspective.

No matter whether kids drink flavored milk in schools, or whether they are getting “gallons of sugar” from these milks each year, the fact remains: sugar is EVERYWHERE.

This flavored milk thing feels a little bit like a witch hunt.

What next? No syrup for pancakes in restaurants? No birthday parties at school? No Halloween trick-or-treating? No movie theater candy? No donuts after church? No sweet treats at the soccer field? A ban of all desserts in restaurants? And the list goes on.

Regulating your child’s sugar consumption starts in the home, with you, the parent. It’s not up to the school or the church or the soccer coach or even the town to decide if and how much sweet food your child eats.

And this includes when your child is making choices outside of the home. From guidelines regarding which milk is acceptable to choose at school (and this conversation should start when kids begin to stay for lunch at school) and how frequently each week they are expected to drink it, to how many sweet foods may be eaten each day; these are guidelines and expectations –even boundaries–that are set in the home, by parents.

As a parent, you’re the governor, gatekeeper and moderator of how much sweet food and drink your child eats. And while it sure is easier to eliminate chocolate milk from school, in the end, it teaches children nothing about making balanced choices.

And herein lies the problem: kids aren’t learning about nutrition and how to make choices for life. So when will our nation put their efforts behind that?

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  1. I respectfully disagree with the idea that children should be given sugary foods in order to teach them nutrition choices. Sweets are an entirely unnatural “food” and one that researchers have recently found addictive — just like drugs. I don’t think any of us would give children the option of taking drugs, just to teach them drug choices. In addition, researchers have found that children eat the same number of calories if they have regular milk or the more caloric chocolate milk. This means that a child drinking chocolate milk will, over the years, become obese! Here’s more about chocolate milk at this blog post — http://smartparentprogram.blogspot.com/2010/08/dont-give-your-child-chocolate-milk.html .

    1. Thanks for your comments Julia. I think a little bit of sweets (Fun Food) is OK for children. It exists in the world, and they need to know how to navigate the world with them in it. Besides, children are growing and have room for a small amount of sweets in their diet (eg, an extra 150 calories could only result in weight gain if energy expenditure does not compensate for consumption). Conversely, we as parents, should make every effort to assure children are offered mostly nourishing foods. The reality is: chocolate milk is not causing the obesity epidemic–there are a myriad of factors.

  2. Hi Jill:

    I agree with what you are saying. Healthy eating in’t about eliminating specific foods, it’s about understanding what to eat in
    moderation.

    I suggest another reason to leave the chocolate milk alone… the choice is often not between chocolate milk and white milk, it is between chocolate milk and no milk. There is NO school age group where children are drinking the recommended amount of milk. Given the importance of the nutrients in milk, isn’t it better if a child gets them in chocolate milk rather than not at all? It certainly seems so to me.

  3. I partially agree with you. But one of the best ways to limit unhealthy foods is to just not have them around. I know that my own choices about what I eat are made in the grocery store. If I purchase Oreos and ice cream, I will eventually eat them. So I don’t purchase them.

    Most children going through a lunch line will prefer the sweetened beverage. That is natural. So making that sweet beverage less unhealthy is fantastic.

    Our dietary problems are largely cultural. Unhealthy food is much more available and often cheaper than healthy food, so it’s what gets offered. I am supportive of any cultural/systemic changes that can be enacted to relieve this problem. for example, I would like legislation to limit or ban marketing of unhealthy foods to children. Yes, conscientious parents avoid the effects of those ads, but many kids don’t have those protections, and they suffer the consequences.

    Marcie Castleberry, MD

    1. I don’t disagree with your comments at all. Every step helps. But our society (and human nature) likes to seek out the bad guy/villain and point the finger/place blame…and the tirade on chocolate milk, in the face of all the other sweet temptations and societal contributors to child obesity, particularly the results about teens drinking sweetened beverages (out today and which did not include consumption of flavored milk) is distracting the attention from the bigger picture–which is early education of parents/families and early intervention. Yes, modifications in all areas of child obesity is needed, but to blame one food is misdirected in my opinion.

  4. As always, you provide such a refreshing perspective! You’re right, the best way to improve the health of children is to teach them how to make the best choices from a variety of foods. Parents play a pivotal role in this…being role models, exposing children to many nutrient-rich foods and teaching them how all foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern. Also, schools can help this endeavor by committing to nutrition education in the classroom, providing sufficient time for meals and time for play. Instead of focusing on restriction, let’s focus on empowerment!