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Chocolate Milk in Schools Causes a Stir

Written by: Anika Christ, RD, CISSN, CPT - Life Time Fitness

Have you been keeping up with the chocolate milk and school controversy?  This topic seems to have become as popular as the infamous “butter or margarine” debate when it comes to nutrition recommendations.  Over the last few years, some of the largest school districts have actually banned chocolate milk, and other flavored milks from their campuses, due to its high-sugar contribution to a child’s daily nutrition.  But does eliminating chocolate milk from school also bring a negative impact to children’s health? 

Here are the most recent findings of both sides of the debate, but remember, there are three sides to every story. Should chocolate milk get the boot, or stay?

Liquid candy

It is not news that added sugar can lead to many health problems, including obesity, when it comes to our children.  The Centers for Disease Control identify sugar-filled drinks to be one of the most prevalent factors when it comes to a food or beverage that impacts our children’s weight. Its stance is to limit the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages.[i]  In most schools, chocolate milk is not limited and is offered on a daily basis. 

Liquid candy is often used to describe chocolate milk and other sweetened beverages because they provide an outlet for kids to consume large amounts of sugar.  The average chocolate milk served in school contains about four teaspoons of added sugar — similar to about a cup of a regular soda.  Because of its sugar content, often sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar, many nutrition experts believe that chocolate milk has no place in schools and absolutely shouldn’t be considered part of a child’s daily nutrition.  Chef Ann Cooper, the infamous “renegade lunch lady”, states that, “saying we need to add sugar to milk to get kids to drink it is like saying we need to feed kids apple pie if they don’t like apples.”[ii]

Chocolate milk vs. plain milk

Recently, the nation’s milk processors have began a near $1 million campaign to save chocolate milk in schools.  Their message paints a picture that chocolate milk and plain milk are one in the same, or equivalent to each other.  Plain milk provides essential nutrients including protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals, as does chocolate milk with the addition of ‘some’ sugar.  Their argument is that kids prefer a sweeter beverage (nearly 70% of milk consumed at schools is in flavored form), and it’s better for them to have some sugar-sweetened milk — versus not drinking milk at all and missing those essential nutrients. 

This point of view is also common amongst nutrition service professionals in the school lunch business.  If we take away the chocolate milk, the children won’t drink milk. So, is adding a bit of sugar an issue when you consider the total nutrition package? Maybe the question is whether we should be teaching children that making a food/beverage sweeter is necessary to getting good nutrition?   

School best practices

This debate will most likely go on for a long time. Many people might not think the added sugar in chocolate milk is a crucial issue when it comes to school lunch, but there’s a bigger picture to consider.  Many schools are banning chocolate milk because it doesn’t require a whole lot of menu planning to simply eliminate a food. If the school lunches being served were wholesome and real foods, the chocolate milk might not be a huge deal.  But the typical school lunch is far from ideal.

It comes down to education — at home and at school. Chocolate milk is not the equivalent to white milk and, when it comes to its nutrient breakdown, children need to be educated on the difference.  Find out what your children’s school is currently doing and consider alternatives. Some schools in the nation are addressing the issue in ways that have been positively received by kids and parents:

Chocolate milk is served one time per week as a dessert. This teaches children that it is not an everyday food and should be viewed as a treat. An optimal lunch would include chocolate milk with a minimally processed meal.

The chocolate milk offered should contain the least amount of added sweeteners possible and should not include high fructose corn syrup. 

Teachers and cafeteria staff are made aware of the differences in sugar content between plain and chocolate milk and can give guidance to children.

If a school and/or district decides to ban chocolate milk altogether, plain milk has been served from a dispenser in a glass cup. This makes the milk colder and taste better.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


[i] CDC.  Reducing Access to Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Among Youth.  2011. Accessed 6/27/11.  <>

[ii] The New York Times.  A School Fight Over Chocolate Milk.  2010.  Accessed 6/27/11.  <>


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Reader Comments (2)

Eliminating milk for the children`s diet is not the solution to stop obesity in children.It can actually create negative effect on their physical & mental health.So i dont think it is wise decision by the school management.

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCauses of Obesity

@Causes of Obesity: Could you clarify?

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

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