Schools Start a Chocolate Milk War

Andrew Dalton

It's hard to believe a brown liquid that's not whiskey could result in this many fights. But a year after the dairy industry made a relatively successful new push on chocolate milk, parents and schools are pushing back. School districts in California and Florida have gotten rid of all flavored milk in favor of the plain white stuff.

But it's an uphill battle. Seems 60 percent of the milk served in New York cafeterias is chocolate, and that's pretty typical.

I picked up my own daughter from a public summer camp a few weeks ago to find her with a brown mustache, chugging a little chocolate bomb. She knew I wouldn't approve, and said the worst thing she could have: 

"It's low fat!"

Yeah, the low fat gambit. While fine on its own terms, it's the little half-step that allows schools to serve the same empty crap. Actually, when it's low fat, it can be even emptier.

The dairy industry and school officials normally argue that without the chocolate, they won't get the nutrition anyway. Diane Pratt-Heavner of the School Nutrition Association typifies this view when she tells The New York Times:

"It’s better for them to have some milk with some flavoring and a little added sugar than to go without milk." 

You could call this the "part of this nutritious breakfast" tactic that lets commercials present Fruity Pebbles as healthy. (I was stunned when I recently learned they were still using this old whopper from my own childhood. And bummed when I heard my kid try to spring it on me.)

But taken far enough, this can justify just about anything. Soda certainly keeps the kids hydrated. And making Red Bull an option will assure that they're getting their B vitamins.

Or as Ann Cooper, who runs a Colorado school lunch program and a national website, says:

"Saying we need to add sugar and flavoring to milk to get kids to drink it is like saying we need to feed kids apple pie if they don’t like apples."

And this is all assuming that milk is somehow a panacea, a flawless liquid that is going to solve health woes.  

I'm by no means a radical about this. Options are fine. I recently read the ingredients in Ovaltine, assuming they were going to be horrifying, but not only did I think it was okay for my kid to have it on occasion, I may just start drinking the stuff myself.

But schools are in a unique position. Like prisons and airports, they have a captive crowd. They can simply limit the choices kids have, and give them no choice but the good stuff. As every parent who's had a toddler knows, they'll fight you to the death if they think they can win and get something better.

Are you concerned about what schools are serving your kids?


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