Nutritious and delicious? Experts debate chocolate milk in public schools

Apr 12, 2011

Greg Miller of National Dairy Council and chef Ann Cooper, active advocate for healthy school lunches, debated your questions on whether or not chocolate milk should be allowed in public schools. Ask your question now!

Read today's story:Chocolate Milk Stirs Controversy In Schools

As a PhD in Nutrition Science and a parent of 3 kids who drink all kinds of milk, I'm glad to join today to talk about school meals and how we can help kids build healthy habits that will help them succeed academically and with sports and other activities.

Hi! Glad to be here and begin our discussion.  I really don't believe that we should serve flavored milk in schools.  We don't have a calcium crises - we have an obesity crises!

Given that for a distressingly high number of students, school food is their primary food, isn't quantity important too? I agree that in the best of all possible worlds we'd all eat organic, fat-free, low impact everything, but really. For growing children, they need nutrition and bulk. Fill those tummies. I think we can drive everyone mostly nuts with this endless harping.

I agree - it doesn't have to be  organic - but it should be healthy!

If chocolate milk is eliminated in school, and kids won't drink 1 percent or non-fat white milk instead because they don't like the taste, are there enough other foods in the current school lunches that kids can eat to make up for the calcium and other vitamins and minerals they won't get because they won't drink white milk?

We've looked at that question and found that it's very difficult to make up all those nutrients.  If a child gets a calcium- and Vit D-fortified orange juice, he/she still needs 1/2 cup diced cantelope, 3.5 ounces of apple and a half cup of baked beans just to make up the nutrients lost in one glass of milk... that adds 171 calories AND extra cost.

The recent IOM study suggests that except for a small group of teenage girls -- that we are not calcium deficient in this country.  There are lots of forms of calcium and they can be served in schools.

I hear moderation from each. That is the key. We are talking about the students getting a single serving of low-fat chocolate milk not an unmeasured, unlimited amount. Does this not teach children serving size and moderation? Also, athletes are now learning that drinking low fat chocolate milk for muscle recovery after workouts is beneficial. Again does this not present itself as an opportunity to encourage drinking milk as a part of a healthy diet?

Milk is part of a healthy diet & for athletes it can be great.  But every single day in school as part of lunch - just adds too many calories to our kid's plates.

The problem with the chocolate-milk debate isn't at heart about calories or corn syrup; it's about saturated fat. For years we've been told to avoid it. Now nutritional science is changing its tune, saying that some saturated fat might not be so harmful. I'd like to know how each of you, and the organizations you represent, have adapted to these new findings. Thank you.

I think we need to consume sat fat in moderation -- but it can be part of a healthy part of our diets.  We serve organic white milk in schools.

Science is now showing that consumption of milkfat is not associated with heart disease in adults.  However, we still adhere to the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Kids need to learn healthy habits, and the Dietary Guidelines called out that getting kids to drink more milk is important, since kids who are good milk drinkers are going to continue drinking milk as adults.  And we all know most adults are drinking too much soda and not enough milk!

I'm a teacher, and had cafeterial duty yesterday. There were 6 cartons of chocolate milk, and the rest were plain. The first milks to go? Chocolate. All students are required to put milk on their tray, so the rest got plain milk. I counted 38 students out of approx 170 students (and probably missed several dozen more while directing cafeteria traffic) who simply didn't even open the plain milk on their tray. Nutritionally, if they won't drink it, what good does it do? And, frankly, I'm perturbed at the waste of requiring students to get a milk even though they won't drink it. What a waste!

I agree that we should not mandate that all school meals include milk.  We need to change the school lunch guidelines!

Ketchup is a vegetable. Chocolate prevents cancer. Oh, and children should be allowed to drink wine, because that also prevents cancer, or something, I forget.


Isn't it true that most every food (except Twinkies, which isn't really food) has benefits and detriments, and we need to consider which is best to be consumed for the dietary purposes of that person?

It sounds like you're talking about a balanced approach, which is exactly what we want for kids.  We don't eat nutrients, we eat foods.  It's about balancing food choices over time and being active to build a healthy diet.

I think we need to educate our kids to eat a balanced diet of fresh fruit - fresh veggies - whole grains & healthy proteins -- with some treats thrown in as well.

Why is it that when my generation was in school (I'm 55) and we had chocolate milk, burgers, hot dogs, meat loaf, cookies, french fries,etc. etc. for school lunch, obesity wasn't a problem? Is it because we rode our bikes to school? Played baseball outside till dark? Played basketball when we were bored, and hide and seek with our friends on Saturdays?  What's changed?


Doesn't physical activity have a lot to do with the "epidemic" of obesity? Why are we making chocolate milk the villan while we all know kids are sitting around playing video games and on the computer in their free time?

I agree, the obesity problem is the result of many factors and lack of physical activity is an important key driver.  Healthy eating is important too.  That's why we're tackling both parts of the equation though the Fuel Up To Play 60 program, which is a partnership with NFL that really gets kids excited about adopting healthy lifestyles.

Of course our kids need physical activity -- we now have a generation of children where one our of every four meals is eaten in a car - one out of four is fast food & one our of four in front of a blue screen: tv - game boy - iphone - ipad..  We need to educate our kids on healthy eating & healthy excercise.

Is there something to be said for chocolate milk being the low-hanging fruit in the school lunch debate? Is it the easiest thing to fix because it can simply be removed and replaced at similar cost with few other ramifications? There are other items that are similarly, if not more, unhealthy. Many of those may be less nutrient-rich, so they should be targeted for removal, but those may also be more expensive or complicated to replace.

I'm a Nutrition Services Director w/ 28K students & believe me its not the "low-hanging fruit."  But given the obesity crises in our country -- it is not something that should be served in schools.  We need to serve kids fresh fruit - fresh veggies - whole grains & healthy proteins.  If parents want their children to have chocolate milk - they can serve it at home.

That's a good question because we have to be careful about the unintended consequences of removing a nutrient-rich food that is so well liked by kids.  With the 35% decrease we've seen in overall milk consumption when flavored milk is removed, you see significant declines in kids' overall nutrient intakes.

Two questions: If schools eliminate chocolate milk, how will they make white milk attractiveness and tasty enough to maintain the same nutrition being consumed? and... How will they replace the calcium and other nutrients that students miss as they drink less milk?

When chocolate milk leaves the cafeteria, its 9 essential nutrients leave with it.  The data shows that milk consumption on average drops by more than 35% when flavored milk is removed.  We're for offering a variety of milk choices so that kids will drink their milk, whether it's white or chocolate.  Any milk needs to be served cold and with some education so kids understand that milk helps them build strong bones and healthy bodies.

We do not serve flavored milk in our 50 schools - we serve organic white milk in dispensers that keep it cold and delicious and our kids love it.

Why shouldn't children have a choice between different flavors of milk? We give them other choices among nutrient rich foods. To the child who prefers watermelon over an orange, we don't tell that child he shouldn't eat the watermelon because the orange is a better choice.

70% of all milk consumed in schools is flavored & it has 50 - 100% more grams of sugar and calories than its white counterpart.  Apples and apple pie both have nutrients -- but we don't give our kids the choice between the two everyday at lunch.

School districts like Fairfax county are very diverse so you're right, it's best for kids to have lots of choices when it comes to their milk.  Milk processors are working to bring the sugar and calorie content of flavored milks down, which I'm sure parents can appreciate.  It's going to be important that the new products meet kids' approval when it comes to taste-- it's not good nutrition if the kids don't drink it.

What happened to everything in moderation? One carton of chocolate milk at school is not making kids obese- it's the junk food that is served at home.

I agree its not about 1 carton of chocolate milk in schools - however 70% of all milk consumed in schools is flavored with added sugar.  If a child consumes chocolate milk vs white milk for 180 days of the school year - they will gain 2.5 - 3# - yikes!!!

That's not necessarily true.  The best way to tackle childhood obesity is to tackle the total diet over time and kids' level of physical activity.  While one food may add a few additional calories relative to another food, eliminating flavored milk may mean a need for increased calories to capture the nutrients that are lost.  Not to mention, studies show that flavored milk drinkers are NOT heavier than their non-milk drinking counterparts and they have better nutrient intakes.

As a registered dietitian and mother, I want my kids to eat well at school so they can focus better and learn. So I am really concerned about an approach to better nutrition that counts some foods as "bad" and which means my kid may be left with nothing she wants to eat on a given day at school. What are the consequences of being so zealous about preventing childhood obesity that my child "is left behind"? Let her drink white milk at home--at school, I want something nutritous (like chocolate milk) that she'll actually eat (or drink).

If your child will drink white milk at home - why wouldn't she drink white milk at school.  We serve organic white milk from dispensers that keep it cold & our students think its delicious.  Everything that happens in school is part of the educational experience and healthy food has to be part of that.

Over 70% of milk sold in schools these days is flavored, that's certainly a strong indicator of what kids like and will consume.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognize that fat-free flavored milk is a nutrient-rich food.  Studies show that kids who drink flavored milk are better milk drinkers overall and drink less soda.  That seems like a good tradeoff!

Why do you think milk is receiving so much attention when lots of foods in schools have calories, fat, and/or sugar?

I think flavored milk is taking the place of soda for many kids in schools.  As schools ban soda - flavored milk often has the most sugar of any beverage consumed in schools.

Flavored milk probably also has the most nutrition of any other drink aside from plain milk.  We want to avoid the unintended consequences of eliminating certain nutrients or foods... for example, lots of kids don't like their vegetables.  If we sprinkle some cheese on it, all of the sudden that changes.  We've got to make nutritious foods palatable to kids, or they won't get the nutrients they need.

How can one food, such as chocolate milk, be repsonsible for the obesity crisis?

No one food is causing obesity in our country.  But in schools -- we just don't need to be serving our kids all of the added sugar that comes with flavored milk.

Besides altering the school cafeteria menu, how can we effectivelyuse the school environment to help prevent childhood obesity --in a way that helps, not harms, kids?

We need to support recess everyday at school - recess before lunch and inclusive excercise for all kids.

The schools need to be adequately funded so kids can enjoy recess, academic challenges and healthy meals alike.  For example, there are programs that are looking for alternative ways to get kids a healthy breakfast at school without even having to use the cafeteria.  Lots of schools are looking at ways to incorporate more physical activity through recess or afterschool programs.  The National Dairy Council's trying to help through Fuel Up To Play 60, which empowers kids to make healthier food choices and be more active.

Our son has always been small and thin for his age. His pediatrician actually recommended giving him chocolate milk as a way to increase his intake. One concession I have made to his age (he just hit 9 years) is that he now gets the 1% version at home. He will drink white milk if chocolate is not available, but his clear preference at home and at school is the chocolate. My son has been drinking chocolate milk since he was 2 years old. He weighs in at all of 53 pounds at 9 years of age. He's healthy. He's not overweight. Why should we take it away from him?

You shouldn't take your child's chocolate milk away.  But in schools we need to balance all of the student's needs.

Yes, it's all about cultivating good milk drinking habits that will last a lifetime.  Eating healthy is the balance of choices we make -- at school and at home.  Taking away flavored milk won't make a kid's diet healthy, it's about all the foods and beverages together.

Is there a problem in the US with calcium?

The IOM's report says that we do not have a calcium crises in this country.  There is a small segment of the population - girls 14 - 17 that need more calcium.  We need to teach them about all of the healthy calcium alternatives.

Honestly? This is a debate? As a mother with three children in school, there are far more important issues we should be discussing. Milk has 9 essential nutrients -- exceeding any other beverage choice and chocolate milk has only 2-4 added teaspoons of sugar. It it wasn't for chocolate milk, my kids would not be drinking milk. There are far more important issues we should be discussing relating to children and the education system. Minnesota Mom

I agree that education in American has tremendous challenges -- but so does nutrition.  Arnie Duncan has said that if we want to close the nutrition gap in our country - we need to close the nutrition gap.  Serving healthy food is part of that.

I agree!  My boys will only drink chocolate milk and my daughter drinks fat-free white milk.  It's important to give kids the milk they like, because they probably won't replace it with as nutrient-rich of a beverage.

Isn't chocolate milk just the latest is a series of foods that get accused of being THE cause of the obesity crisis, and it's easier to vanquish them then actually take a more holistic approach to the issue. It's like sacrificing virgins when it doesn't rain; it may not do anything about the problem, but it's an impressive stunt.

Chocolate milk isn't the cause of the obesity crises -- but it does not need to be part of our children's daily lunches at school.  It has lots of calories and needs to be treated like a treat.

Thanks all for your great questions.  If you have more - please email me at  I believe that chocolate milk is soda in drag & it doesn't belong in schools.  There is 50 - 100% more calories in flavored milk than regular milk & we have an obesity crises in this country - not a calcium crises.  For school lunch we're supposed to serve approx 650 calories to an elementary school student -- if flavored milk is 180 calories -- do we really want to "spend" almost 30% of our kids lunch calories on flavored milk -- or would we rather "spend" it on fresh fruit - fresh vegetables and whole grains?  In our schools - that's the choice we make!

Thanks for having me!  In closing... I tried to get my two boys to drink white milk and when I saw their milk consumption decline, I started stocking the fridge with flavored milk.  Now they're drinking the milk they should be and I'm glad.  I look for other opps to bring the calorie and sugar levels of their diets down via healthy snacks like baby carrots and cucumbers with ranch dressing.  We all want our kids to grow up healthy and strong and to do that, we've got to look at the total diet over time and make sure they're physically active.  Visit or for ideas and resources.

In This Chat
Ann Cooper
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY, Ann has been a chef for more than 30 years and has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, Newsweek , and Time Magazine and has appeared on NPR’s ‘Living on Earth,’ ABC’s Nightline, CNN, PBS’ To The Contrary and the CBS Morning Show and many other media outlets. The author of four books, she is past president of The American Culinary Federation of Central Vermont, and past president and board member of Women's Chefs and Restaurateurs. She also served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board, a Congressional appointment, and was an Executive Committee member of Chefs Collaborative - all in an effort to raise awareness about the value of healthful, seasonal, organic, and regional foods. Visit Ann’s website.
Greg Miller
Gregory D. Miller, Ph.D., M.A.C.N., is executive vice president, research, regulatory and scientific affairs for National Dairy Council (NDC), Rosemont, Illinois and is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Illinois. Dr. Miller graduated in 1978 from Michigan State University with a B.S. degree in Nutrition and in 1982 earned a M.S. degree in Nutrition (Toxicology) from The Pennsylvania State University. In 1986 he received a Ph.D. in Nutrition (Toxicology) from The Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Miller has presented more than 100 invited lectures at national and international meetings and has published more than 130 research papers, reviews, articles, and abstracts. He has co-edited three books on diet, nutrition, and toxicology and contributed chapters to nine books. He is co-author of the Handbook of Dairy Foods and Nutrition, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Editions.
Recent Chats
  • Next: