By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
Jeffrey Mills, director of food services for D.C. Public Schools, told parents at H.D. Cooke Elementary school yesterday that the city's schools beginning in the fall would no longer serve flavored milk or sugary cereals.
Mills made the remarks at a meeting to discuss staffing changes in the H.D. Cook cafeteria and further details could not be obtained. A PTA officer at the meeting said Mills told the parents that other positive changes in cafeteria menus would be made by the time school resumes in August.
Chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk, as well as sugary cereals such as Apple Jacks, Raisin Bran and chocolate-flavored Little Bite Mini-Wheats, have been standard fare for breakfast in D.C. schools. Flavored milks contain nearly as much sugar as Classic Coke or Mountain Dew, and when served alongside sugary cereals and breakfast treats such as Pop-Tarts. Giant Goldfish Grahams and orange juice, consitute meals containing 60 grams of sugar before classes even begin. That's the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar, more than a quarter cup.
Some experts argue that the empty calories from sugar cause behavorial problems in school and prime children for health problems ranging from tooth decay to obesity and early onset of diabetes. Flavored milks also cause a drain on school food budgets because they are more expensive than plain milk. But the dairy industry has fought hard to keep flavored milk in school, fearing that children would drink less milk if it did not contain the added sugar.
Many D.C. students drink flavored milk at least twice a day in school, both at breakfast and at lunch, even though other sugary beverages such as sodas, sport drinks and teas have been banned from schools since 2006.
Low-fat milk typically contains 12 grams of naturally occurring sugar as lactose in an 8-ounce service. The chocolate-flavored milk in D.C. schools, from Cloverland Dairy, lists 24 grams of sugar, the added sugar coming from high-fructose corn syrup. Strawberry-flavored milk from Cloverland Dairy contains 28 grams of sugar, or seven teaspoons.
Apple Jacks cereal lists 9 grams of sugar in a 1-ounce serving, or a bit more than two teaspoons, compared to just 1 gram of sugar in a similar serving of regular Cheerios. Cereals with higher sugar content, served aggressively by the D.C. Public Schools' hired food service contractor, Chartwells, are seen as a vehicle for imprinting on vulnerable children the popular kids' brands of corporate food companies such as Kellogg's, which pays hefty rebates to have its products promoted in schools.
The move to reduce sugar in D.C. school food would be significant, since neither U.S. Department of Agriculture standards nor the District's recently adopted "Healthy Schools" act regulate the amount of sugar in school meals. It would bring the District in line with other progressive jurisdicitions that have eliminated flavored milk as a health measure. Typically, milk sales drop after flavored milk is removed, but eventually rebound once students get used to the idea of drinking plain milk.
Mills, who previously worked developing restuarant concepts in New York City, took the DCPS food services job six months ago after the positioin had gone unfilled for a year. He has promised to act aggressively to improve D.C. school food quality. We will certainly report further details as they become available.