According to the USDA, 19.8 million children in the United States received lunch and nearly 14 million received breakfast on an average day during the 2020-2021 school year.
Using the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrition professionals develop school menus that offer the right balance of fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk, whole grains, and lean protein in every breakfast and lunch served. The important task of serving healthy meals has been hit by everything from supply chain shortages to occasional calls to remove flavored milk from menus over childhood obesity concerns. While some school districts have taken the controversial step of eliminating flavored milk, others are bringing flavored milk back into the cafeteria.
Sharing evidence of the health benefits of flavored milk can help clear up misconceptions about its place in school meals. “With 13 essential nutrients, flavored milk is a key element in school nutrition,” said Maggie Cimarolli, registered dietitian with the St. Louis District Dairy Council. “Many people may not realize that chocolate and strawberry milk offer the same vitamins, minerals and protein as white milk.”
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Keeping flavored milk on school menus provides students with a regular food source to fill three nutrients that are missing from children’s diets: calcium, vitamin D and potassium. These nutrients play a crucial role in healthy growth and development. Plus, the benefits can carry over into the classroom, as students who eat at school and drink 2.5 to 3 cups of milk a day get higher grades and do better overall in school.
Another myth surrounding flavored milk is that students who drink it consume more added sugars. However, research shows that flavored milk drinkers have better quality diets and do not consume more added sugars compared to children who do not drink flavored milk. Additionally, school-flavored milk only accounts for 4% of the added sugar in a child’s diet and provides 13 essential nutrients. However, carbonated beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages account for up to 45% of the added sugar in a child’s diet, with little or no nutrients.
Studies have found that milk, whether flavored or unflavored, is not associated with being overweight in children. Flavored milk, however, offers a great advantage: many children prefer it. In fact, a national study found that when flavored milk was removed from elementary schools, students drank less milk overall, drank less white milk, and led to more food waste.
The bottom line is that flavored milk offers a tasty option to help students meet their daily nutritional needs. “It’s important to look at the entire nutritional profile, rather than focusing on just one nutrient,” Cimarolli recalls. “Whether it’s chocolate, strawberry or plain, milk’s unique nutrient package can help students build strong bones and healthy bodies.”
For more information on the health benefits of chocolate milk and dairy products, visit www.stldairycouncil.org or contact the St. Louis District Dairy Council at 314-835-9668 [email protected] org. For delicious and nutritious recipes, visit us on Facebook or Instagram at STLDairyCouncil.