When TV chef Jamie Oliver, host of the show “Food Revolution,” convinced the superintendent of Los Angeles schools to ban chocolate (and strawberry milk) last month, L.A. became the latest school district to ban what had been a staple of school lunches. Washington, DC, Berkley, and other large school districts have stopped selling chocolate milk, while New York City and the state of Florida have considered similar measures. Across the country, many smaller school districts have also stopped serving chocolate milk at lunch. Are chocolate milk bans a bad idea?
It’s a tough issue for a lot of grown-ups because Lord knows I drank plenty of slightly warm chocolate milk in the cafeteria when I was growing up. If we all did it and turned out fine, why can’t they? But the fact is that we grew up in a time when kids weren’t as unhealthy as they are now. When we were growing up, Americans generally consumed a lot less sugar. My school cafeteria lunches didn’t include a dessert, but now most do. Sweets were something special that you didn’t eat every day. Seeing the way children in my neighborhood eat, I get the impression that many children expect to eat sweets not just every day, but several times a day, and that’s a problem.
There’s no doubt that chocolate milk is not as good for you as regular milk. A carton of chocolate milk has five teaspoons of sugar, putting it on par with a soda. That makes it a poor accompaniment to a nutritious meal and it sends the wrong message that your craving for something sweet is something that should always be indulged. Advocates of chocolate milk say that the alternative is that kids won’t drink milk at all and will therefore miss out on its nutrients. I expect that’s probably true at first, but eventually kids will get thirsty and if there’s only milk or water to drink, they’ll drink milk or water.