As school nutrition programs seek more ways to slash added sugars, many schools are removing chocolate and other flavored milk from their menus.
The problem: Flavored milk served in the National School Lunch Program contains up to 10 grams of added sugar per serving, which is 40 percent of a child’s daily allowance of added sugar, according to University of Connecticut researchers who conducted the study in two elementary schools in New England.
The study measured plain milk selection and consumption in the years after flavored milk was removed in two schools. During the first year without flavored milk, 51.5 percent of students selected plain milk. Two years later, 72 percent of students selected plain milk. Both years, student selection and consumption of plain milk dropped significantly on days when 100 percent fruit juice was also available.
“It is clearly an effective way to lower student intake of added sugars at lunch, and over time, the majority of students will switch to plain milk,” said Marlene Schwartz, professor of human development and family studies, director of the UConn Rudd Center, and lead author of the study. “However, there will always be some students who don’t like plain milk. The challenge is finding a way to meet their dietary needs by providing other nutrient-rich options at lunch.”
The researchers also concluded:
- The first school year after flavored milk was removed, 51.5 percent of students selected milk and drank 4 ounces per carton, indicating school-wide per-student consumption of 2.1 ounces.
- Two years later, 72 percent of students selected milk and drank 3.4 ounces per carton, significantly increasing the school-wide per-student consumption to 2.5 ounces.
- The availability of 100 percent fruit juice at lunch was associated with a significant decrease in students selecting milk and lower milk consumption per carton throughout the years of the study.
“On days when schools had 100 percent juice, milk selection dropped considerably,” Schwartz said. “To maximize student nutrition, the best combination may be to offer plain milk and whole fruit every day.”
Our key takeaway: While flavored milk does contain more added sugar than plain milk, it does contain all the the essential nutrients, like calcium, potassium and vitamin D, of plain milk. If your child won’t drink plain milk, drinking flavored milk is better than not getting enough dairy servings in her diet.
The study was funded by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and the Rudd Foundation.