The importance of milk in the American diet is firmly founded in nutrition science. In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three servings per day of dairy for ages nine years and older.

Why? Simply because dairy foods bring important nutrients to the table and they are linked to multiple health benefits.

Whether it’s chocolate or white, milk is an excellent source of nine essential nutrients for children. Some of these nutrients (calcium, potassium, and vitamin D) are lacking in the average diet of an American child and are identified as ‘nutrients of concern’ by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

In addition to these nutritional benefits and because many of our nation’s children rely on school meals as a major source of nourishment, milk is an integral part of the school lunch program. It’s a perfect match – school milk programs bring the nutrition kids need to the place they’re most likely to eat.1

Naturally, flavored milk is the most popular choice in school lunch rooms – it taste’s great and provides nourishment. When it’s not offered, research suggests students drink less milk and get fewer nutrients – contributing to the detrimental decline of milk consumption.2 Let’s discuss all the reasons why flavored milk is an important staple in schools, while busting a few myths along the way.

ADDED SUGARS ARE A CONCERN. MILK ISN’T THE CULPRIT3.

Contrary to popular belief, school-aged children who drink flavored milk do not have higher added sugar intakes compared to children who do not drink milk.4 Of all the added sugars in the diets of our kids, flavored milk accounts for only 4.3%.5 The leading culprits? Soft drinks, fruit drinks and sports energy drinks.

Milk processors are also getting in the game to help alleviate concerns over added sugar. School flavored milk now has 55% less added sugar than 10 years ago and is, on average, just 122 calories per serving.6

SO, WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCHOOLS REMOVE FLAVORED MILK? IT’S NOT PRETTY…

In the cases where schools and districts remove flavored milk as an option, data shows some serious consequences:

  • White milk doesn’t fill the gap when flavored milk isn’t available- so kids get less milk (and fewer nutrients) than they would with flavored milk options.7,8,9
  • 7% of kids stop eating school lunchesaltogether, and we know that school lunches are healthier than a brown bag lunch.10
  • Kids waste more milk when not given their preference. An estimated 29% of white milk is wasted in such environments.

REPLACING MILK’S NUTRIENTS IS HARDER THAN YOU THINK: 

One study found that it would take three to four additional foods to keep the same nutritional value if milk were eliminated from a young person’s diet. These foods would contain more calories, more fat, cost approximately $2,200-$4,600 more annually per 100 students and still include roughly half of the sugar.11

In May 2017, the federal government relaxed school meal regulations and is bringing 1% flavored milk back to the menu.

It’s proven that the power of choice helps boost kids’ overall intake of nutritious foods.12 Hopefully, with the addition of 1% chocolate milk in school meals, we will see a reverse on the declining trend of milk consumption in American children.

Sources:

  1. USDA FNS. Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, 2012.
  2. Patterson J, Saidel M. The removal of flavored milk in schools results in a reduction in total milk purchases in all grades, K-12. J Am Diet Assoc . 2009;109(9):A97.
  3. Dairy Research Institute®, NHANES 2007-2010. (Nutrition Impact, LLC analysis. Ages 2+ years). Data Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2013. Food Patterns Equivalent Intakes from Food: Consumed per Individual, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2008, 2009-2010. Available at: ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/fsrg
  4. Johnson RK, Frary C, Wang MQ. The nutritional consequences of flavored-milk consumption by school-aged children and adolescents in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc 2002;102:853-856
  5. S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8thEdition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
  6. 2013-2014 Annual School Milk Survey. Funded by the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) and conducted by Prime Consulting Group.
  7. Johnson RK, Frary C, Wang MQ. The nutritional consequences of flavored-milk consumption by school-aged children and adolescents in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc 2002;102:853-856.
  8. Hanks AS, Just DR, Wansink B. Chocolate milk consequences: a pilot study evaluating the consequences of banning chocolate milk in school cafeterias. PLoS One 2014;9:e91022.
  9. Quann EE, Adams D. Impact on milk consumption and nutrient intakes from eliminating flavored milk in elementary schools. Nutr Today 2013; 48:127-1
  10. Sarah Minaya, MS; Alice Jo Rainville, PhD, RD, CHE, SNS, FAND (2016) How Nutritious Are Children’s Packed School Lunches? A Comparison of Lunches Brought From Home and School Lunches. The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, 40(2), Retrieved from http://schoolnutrition.org
  11. 2009 Study “The Impact on Student Milk Consumption and Nutrient Intakes from Eliminating Flavored Milk in Schools,” conducted in 58 elementary and secondary schools. Funded by the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) and conducted by Prime Consulting Group, presented at the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference 2010)
  12. Conducted by Brian Wansink, PhD of Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition in 2011