Erin is a mom of two and has been with Today’s Mama for ten years. She is charged with finding and sharing all of the wonderful things the web has to offer. She is particularly fond of food, photography, printables, and funny things. She writes about losing weight in her Healthy Living for Mom series, and is chronicling her attempt to master her DSLR camera with her series, Big Girl Camera.

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Banning Chocolate Milk—We’re Missing the Point

My own mother calls me a “food nazi”. A friend once declared me a “food weirdo” after I turned down red-velvet cake because of my desire to steer clear of red food dye. I’m going to keep harping on my dad to give up his white bread habit until he actually does it.

So when Jamie Oliver’s TED talk started circulating and the Food Revolution started I was encouraged. Hell, yes. Let’s teach kids about food! Let’s show parents how quickly a delicious meal, made from whole foods can be prepared! Let’s get those vending machines out of schools!

But now I keep hearing the rally cry to ban chocolate milk in schools and I can’t help but think that we’re missing the point.

Kids eat five meals a week at school, the other sixteen meals of the week (not to mention snacks) fall under the responsibility of mom and dad. It would seem to me that if we’ve got an obesity epidemic on our hands, that the first place we should be looking is where kids get the bulk of their exposure to food. At home.

Baby's first cookie face. I posted this on Facebook back in the day, so my family could see that she DOES get treats.

I know, it’s easier to unite around a shared enemy–the school district, but if we really care about how we’re fueling our kids, we need to take a good long look at our own grocery baskets and lifestyles.

Schools are eliminating recess. The mighty TV, the inviting couch-potato creator, now has the additional competition of computers, smart phones and iPads for your kids’ sedentary attention.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Angry Birds and so help me, my 3 year old taught me some new moves, but we have to be smarter about addressing this issue if we’re going to churn out a generation of healthy kids.

Health, fitness, nutrition are all part of a larger picture—a picture that we as parents have the greatest influence in painting. We can’t keep blaming the school district when the fact is that good eating habits start with the first bites of food we lovingly chop up and put on that highchair tray.

We owe it to our kids to fix this, but eliminating chocolate milk? What is that saying…something about spitting on a forest fire?

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Comments (23)

  1. Pingback: Substituting Chocolate Milk For Protein Shake?

  2. Heidi 08/29/2011 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for this post and for encouraging discussion about this. I had to laugh out loud when I read your comment about red velvet cake bc I thought that I was the only person that thought that way!

    GO JAMIE OLIVER are my thoughts. Im a teacher and Ive seen a lot, a lot! Sadly, in many districts the majority of food IS eaten at school. I wish that there were more real quality lunches out there but its just not the reality-YET. I do have hope though. I agree with pretty much everything that Ive read in the comments and I totally agree that other kids have a huge influence on each others eating. I see it with my own eyes all of the time. Like for instance when several kids in my class came in with SpongeBob “fruit snacks” bc they all wanted to play with the wrappers together. One of the moms said, “Im just happy to get a little fruit in him.” I cringed but didnt say a word bc its not my business. My business is my children. I do the very best I can…and its not easy as most moms know. I praise Jamie O for all of his work….would we be having this blogersation otherwise? I think we all just do the best we can and hope for the best. Thanks for your blog and your post. Very interesting to think about 🙂

  3. Tonya 06/06/2011 at 1:44 pm

    As others have mentioned, many kids who are underprivileged are getting most of their meals at school. Some don’t even get dinner, just school breakfast and lunch. So this issue affects them greatly.

    I give my daughter chocolate milk on ocassion, but I’ve been making it myself (Usually 1-2 spoonfuls of Ovaltine or cocoa with a little powered sugar mixed with 8 oz of whole milk.) So to compare, if I make the chocolate milk myself with 2 TBS of Ovaltine ( I use 1/2 the recommended amount which is plenty sweet!) there is 9 grams of added sugar, and then about 11 grams of natural sugar (lactose) from the milk, totaling 20 grams per serving. Up unti recently, a single-serve box of Horizon lowfat milk have 27 grams of sugar.

    What’s nice is that it looks like manufacturers are working to address this issue. Horizon has recently reformulated and the new version now has 22 grams of sugar. I don’t think this would have happened had Jamie Oliver, nutrition experts, and concerned parents not spoken out about this issue.

  4. Sophie Johnson 06/06/2011 at 12:22 pm

    The CEO of our wholesome, sustainable school lunch company, Choicelunch, just wrote about the same thing!! Great minds, Erin!!

  5. Sophie Johnson 06/06/2011 at 12:21 pm

    The CEO of our wholesome, sustainable school lunch company just wrote about the same thing!! Great minds, Erin!!

  6. Kim 06/02/2011 at 3:27 pm

    I understand why they are doing it, but I agree with you. The majority of the problem lies at home.
    My kids eat very healthy. They play with each other, swim, and play outside most of the day.
    However, we DO have sweets occasionally and they are allowed TV time everyday.
    It goes back to the all things in moderation mindset. We allow things, but anything in excess is a bad thing.

    So, I don’t care if my kids have chocolate milk at school. They only eat school lunch two days a week and the rest of the time they are having healthy choices at home.

  7. Carina Wytiaz 06/02/2011 at 1:27 pm

    I feel a little guilty because my kids attend a school that actually has delicious and healthy school lunches. Lots of veggies and fruits, and a district that is committed to even further re-tooling the menus to offer the healthiest choices possible.

    Last year they had a “I Tried” program where they’d feature different fruits and veggies, even some exotic, and the kids would get a sticker for trying something new. I would say that most schools are not this way. That’s part of the reason that I’m OK with chocolate milk: my kids will have a variety of options throughout the day.

    I worry more for lower income and highly stressed school districts that don’t have the resources to devote to creating fresh and healthy meals.

    • Carina Wytiaz 06/02/2011 at 1:28 pm

      p.s. I’m with you on the red velvet with the red dye: GROSS. EWW.

    • Kim 06/02/2011 at 3:28 pm

      That is awesome Carina. Our school district has a great system for school lunches also. They let kids know if the food is healthy or not, and there is a salad bar in the elementary schools! So, I don’t mind my son having chocolate milk with his fruits and veggies 🙂

      • Likely 06/03/2011 at 8:23 am

        Having taught in the school district that Carina is praising I will concur that she has it REALLY good. I actually used to buy school lunch as a teacher every once in a while because it was GOOD! they had homemade bread, salad bar with homemade croutons and homemade dressings and from scratch desserts and fresh fruits and veg.

        Not the case everywhere (I know live in the east) and unfortunately the kids who are having breakfast at the schools are becoming a majority.

        I do not have a problem with what Jaime Oliver is doing. I agree whole heartedly. Have you seen all of his Food Revolution Episodes? I should probably just write a post about this myself, but I think the point I want to make is best illustrated by a mom on one episode that said something along the lines of “my child used to be a really good eater until they were exposed to all of this crap” and THAT is what I have a problem with. My kids are really good eaters. My children ASK for salad. and seconds and thirds on it. But when we go to Chipotle as a family to get something and they see that big case of drinks they see that darn chocolate milk or the “juices” and that is what they want. That is what all the other kids in the place have. But not mine. They have their free water cups.

        When they go to school they are exposed to all kinds of junk. and they want to be like their friends. All of their friends have chocolate or strawberry or heaven knows what other flavor and that is cool.

        I have absolutely taught my children how to eat well, but darn it if the very place that is supposed to be educating my children is not supporting me in that.

        And the whole idea that the kids HAVE to have their “milk” in their balanced lunch is crap — because that sugared milk crap is what they are getting. Did you see the school bus episode where Jaime showed how much sugar is in that milk?

        I think the milk is exactly the thing to target — it is the perfect symbol of what is COMPLETELY wrong with the way we are looking at school lunch nutrition. Next thing they will be doing is serving chocolate covered broccoli niblets. Just look how the food industry has completely ruined yogurt for kids. GOGURT??? nasty nasty nasty. that is how we market a wonderful food to kids. We play them for fools.

        phew. sorry… 🙂

        • Likely 06/03/2011 at 8:32 am

          I NOW live in the east. not know. woops.

        • Susan 10/24/2011 at 10:27 pm

          Amen, sister! It’s not that chocolate milk is the antichrist, it’s just that kids don’t need to have a milk variant that is pulsating with sugar! Even kids that are good eaters at home will want to have chocolate milk (and any other junky foods available) at school. It’s just not healthy, nor does it need to be available. Schools should support healthy nutrition through their actions, not through words only.

  8. julie/just precious 06/01/2011 at 11:00 pm

    This is a great post to start a conversation, but I think it’s missing the point (that other commenters shared as well): a VERY large number of children in America are getting the majority of their meals at school. Some are getting their only meals at school. That’s why the “ban chocolate milk” and “ban white potatoes and corn” from school meals is necessary.

    Chocolate milk should be a special treat, like your daughter’s chocolate chip cookie, not an every day treat.

    It’s also necessary for the schools to teach healthy choices. Unfortunately, even more than physical education, Health as a class subject is being cut from curricula. And while we can say it to parents until we’re blue in the face, a lot of times the children need to learn about healthy eating before it really affects the parents. (Parents will listen to “Mom, stop feeding us all these sugary snacks, it’s killing us” a whole lot more than they will PSAs on TV and letters home from the school nurse.)

    So while I understand and agree with your point that families need to take responsibility for what their children are eating, we as a nation HAVE to do more to help our children with making better choices for their health. And if that means cutting unhealthy foods from the cafeterias, then, by all means, I’m behind that!

  9. Allison Randall 06/01/2011 at 9:14 pm

    I totally agree. I’m uber food-conscious (my daughter didn’t have sugar until after her first birthday, and she STILL hasn’t had a single piece of candy) but I whole-heartedly give her chocolate milk, because, well– it’s still milk. And that’s the important part. I think in many ways, parents begin to slack and want to turn over more of the choices over to schools, when in the end, parents are in charge of their child’s education, eating habits, discipline…yadda yadda yadda. So, 3 CHEERS for chocolate milk!!

    • Likely 06/03/2011 at 8:27 am

      are you serious about chocolate milk still being milk or are you being sarcastic?

      • Susan 10/24/2011 at 10:30 pm

        I was wondering the same thing, what the heck?? That’s like saying that Corn Pops cereal is okay to eat because it has real corn in it! And thus Pop Tarts must be okay because of the fruit that’s in the middle!!!


  10. Cairn 06/01/2011 at 9:32 am

    My daughter will only drink the chocolate milk at school, because it is the only skim milk. She doesn’t like the taste of the others because they have more fat. Why can’t the schools have regular(non chocolate) skim milk as an option? And just as a side note: There are some kids that get at least ten meals a week (when you include their breakfasts) at school and their teachers and other helpful parents are providing snacks for these kids. Sometimes it is the majority of the food they are getting during the school week.

  11. Darcy Nugent 06/01/2011 at 9:25 am

    I agree! For my son, organic chocolate milk is a great way to get calcium and vitamin D (he is not a fan of regular milk). And no, he doesn’t get it with every meal or everyday – but some days I know it makes the school lunch a little easier to eat!

  12. Jill 06/01/2011 at 9:25 am

    As a dietitian working in school food service, I am encouraged by your points and perspective.
    It is also worth noting that the essential nutrients found in unflavored milk are still there in the flavored ones (albeit with extra calories & sugar, sure). If adding a little chocolate is the only way your child will take milk, it can definitely be a part of their healthy diet. And certainly a better option than sugary empty calorie beverages.

  13. Adrienne 06/01/2011 at 8:53 am

    I was pro sugar until I read this…. It scared me… I still give my kids sugar, but every time I do it, I think of this article and I actually feel bad for giving them sugar.

  14. Pam 06/01/2011 at 8:48 am

    If the chocolate milk is organic there is no issue. You have made great points here – it’s we the parents that have accountability. Thanks!

  15. Nina 06/01/2011 at 8:27 am

    This is somewhat insightful. However it fails to recognize the many lower income
    Children who eat more than one meal a day at school. In fact studies show that for those same children,in large part, those are the ONLY meals being eaten at all. And while it may seem as if anyone shouldn’t be affected by five meals if they get other healthier ones that simply isn’t true. My sister and her husband are dedicated to their kids eating healthy. The kids begged to get school lunches and they said ok within two weeks both had gained noticeable weight and so they went back to bringing lunch. These are not sedentary kids either. Clearly the high carb, sugar and fat wasn’t going to work for them…they even reviewed the menus to make healthier choices but those are quite limited. Now my kid drinks chocolate milk, I prefer that over juice, soda or (horrid) koolaid but he knows at three it’s one a day and water is best. So I agree it can/should be taught at home but it’s not the complete answer.

  16. Mama Mary 06/01/2011 at 8:16 am

    This post goes right along with the one I just wrote about Healthy Habits for kids! It starts at the home! Great post! (Though I don’t want my kids drinking chocolate milk at school when they are school age so I kinda agree with the ban.) 🙂