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Chocolate Milk Under Siege

chocolate milkIf there’s one thing that most kids can agree on, it’s that chocolate milk is awesome. Turns out a lot of parents, perhaps recalling their own childhood love of Bosco and Nesquik, think so too. And most importantly, for many white-milk-averse kids, chocolate milk serves as a highly efficient, state-of-the-art calcium delivery system.

That’s why parents — and also kids — have protested the latest lunchroom trend: No more chocolate milk. Schools from Washington to Wiggins to Wenatchee have removed all flavored milk from cafeterias, citing concerns about sugar consumption. And if you consider the success of Jamie Oliver’s school-food revolution, a chocolate milk cut-back, though hardly universal, was probably inevitable.

But is banning it really necessary? Depends whom you ask.

Obviously, the National Dairy Council, whose current campaign is “Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk,” and the Milk Processor Education program, which has backed studies showing calcium deficiency in three quarters of teens, say no.

The milk sold in schools today represents 7 percent of all milk sold nationwide; and 71 percent of it is flavored. Yet overall, milk sales have been down for years, and the dairy industry has explicitly stated that flavored milk “offers opportunity for growth.”

But “chocolate milk isn’t just about chocolate milk. It’s really also about broccoli and string beans,” says New York-based food sociologist Dina R. Rose, Ph.D. “As children get accustomed to higher amounts of sugar, they get a higher threshold for sweet flavors. And that makes all the foods not in that flavor set less appealing.”

In other words, one of the reasons your kid will reject her zucchini at dinner is that it doesn’t taste like candy.

Further, Rose says, using chocolate as a Trojan horse might get some calcium into your kids, but that doesn’t make them healthy eaters: “The mentality that we have to do anything to get kids to consume a particular kind of food is sending the wrong message. We have to teach them how to eat, try new foods, expand their palate. It should be about getting them to have good eating habits.”

Good habits include, for one thing, a sense of moderation (not to mention enjoyment). After all, it’s not that folks like Rose want to ban all chocolate milk from all children’s lives — just, perhaps, from daily service at schools and sketchy claims of health benefits. Chocolate milk Fridays, anyone?

–Lynn Harris

photo: iStockphoto.com/redmonkey8

For more on the chocolate milk wars, check out 3 Reasons Not to Drink Chocolate Milk on Strollerderby.

Tell us: Do you think chocolate milk should be banned from schools?


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