Friday, September 17, 2010

Let's Put Sugar Back in School Food!

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Maybe it was bound to happen sooner or later: A Washington Post columnist has come out in favor of chocolate milk in school.

Yes, I opened the Post this morning and found former metro reporter Petula Dvorak whining about the things schools have banned this year, but most of all flavored milk. She even takes a poke at Jamie Oliver for actually praising the decision by D.C. schools to take chocolate and strawberry milk off the menu.

Won't kids collapse in a heap of osteoporosis if they can't have their chocolate milk? Dvorak moans. What harm could a few extra teaspoons of sugar possibly do?

Dvorak's attitude is not at all uncommon. She's a perfect shill for the diary industry, which has mounted a national scare campaign to keep sugary milk in school. It is, after all, one of their best sellers and perhaps the only bright spot in a pretty dismal picture where plummeting milk consumption is concerned.

By Dvorak's logic, we should just add sugar to foods we want kids to eat. If they don't like carrots, let's serve them carrot cake instead. If they won't eat their spinach, let's hide it in a brownie.

In fact, sugar is the go-to ingredient in under-funded school cafeterias. Not only does it induce kids to buy the food in the federally-subsidized meal line, it's a cheap source of the calories the government says kids must be served if schools are to qualify for those federal funds. With our inattention to the way schools are feeding our kids, we've allowed them to slip into a state of dependency on a food additive that has a special relationship with our epidemic of childhood obesity and a host of modern diseases: diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis and a surge in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children.

As we discovered by monitoring what D.C. schools were serving in the cafeteria, kids as young as five routinely were consuming 15 teaspoons of sugar or more before classes even started because of breakfasts loaded with chocolate and strawberry milk, Apple Jacks cereal, Pop-Tarts, Giant Goldfish Grahams and Otis Spunkmeyer muffins. As concerned parents, we campaigned for and succeeded in getting these sugary foods removed from the D.C. school menu and replaced with healthier options.

Says school food consultant and author Kate Adamick: "There are approximately 4.2 grams of sugar in a teaspoon of sugar, and approximately 115 teaspoons of sugar in a pound of sugar. Thus, if a child drinks a carton of flavored milk with as little as 10 grams of added sugars every day during a 180-day school year, he will consume more than 3 1/2 pounds of added sugars. Needless to say, if that same child is drinking the flavored milk for both breakfast and lunch, he's consuming more than 7 pounds of added sugars in a single school year. The more grams of added sugars in each carton of flavored milk, the bigger that number becomes -- and quickly."

The message for Dvorak and others like her should be, Try a little harder. We can teach kids to drink plain milk. Loading foods with sugar is not only too easy, it's a dangerous habit.

But advocates of healthier school food need to get their act together where this campaign for sugary milk is concerned. Already a "study" bought and paid for by the dairy industry, and conducted by a food marketing firm that also works for Coke, Pepsi and Nestle, has found its way into the conversation. Heaping scorn on industry tactics isn't good enough. We need a coherent retort to the argument that kids who don't have chocolate milk at their disposal don't get enough calcium or Vitamin D.

If you support parents' efforts to remove flavored milk and other sugary foods from schools, please take a moment to log into Dvorak's article online and leave your comments.


  1. I had my own battle this week over serving chocolate milk at snack time. (I won!) I argued that training children's taste buds to prefer only sweetened foods will in the long run reduce their calcium intake because it will prevent them from eating foods that are calcium powerhouses (i.e. spinach, plain yogurt, cheese) that aren't sweet.

    A school's role is to educate and develop functional, productive members of society. Therefore, it is the cafeteria's job to educate children to eat whole foods that will develop functional, productive bodies. Doctoring up everything with sugar is taking the easy way out, thus not doing our job. We wouldn't let a teacher fill out the answers for a student on an exam, it would certainly be easier than teaching but it would be cheating. In my eyes, filling food with sugar is doing the same thing.

  2. Dvorak's column makes one of the best arguments for the banning chocolate milk. She reports that her child was a good milk drinker until someone gave him "vanilla milk" and now he won't drink regular milk. So, as a parent, why do you want the school training your kid to reject healthy choices.

    My child's charter school serves no flavored milk and my good little milk drinker drinks the regular milk happily. If kids think the regular milk tastes "nasty and spoiled" perhaps the schools need to do a better job keeping the milk really cold. Or maybe they just forgot what regular milk is supposed to taste like.

    If Dovrak wants her kid mainlining sugar at school, she can pack him a thermos full of whatever she wants to pack, just keep it away from my kid.

  3. Dvorak’s piece is the diary industry argument word for word. Does she possess any critical thinking skills at all? Or did those dairy industry come knocking at her door with free samples of their junk?

    We’ve got to shift the discussion about refined sugar. Its not just going to rot our kids teeth and widen their waistlines. Sugar is a major anti-nutrient.

  4. Some people really genuinely hate the taste of milk. I am one of those people, probably because I am lactose intolerant. Drinking chocolate milk (which I find just as tasty as the next person) doesn't change that. It's not a great strategy to boost my calcium intake because it causes all kinds of unpleasant absorption issues. Kids who are lactose intolerant should probably decline to drink the milk, and that's ok.

    For the rest of the kids who aren't lactose intolerant, they'll get used to it. If you're absolutely dead set that your kid is being deprived by not having the option of a sugary drink at school, send him/her to school with a packed lunch and drink of your choosing.

  5. Believe it or not, it's not just the dairy industry that is in favor of flavored milk. Some very senior people in the DC school food bureaucracy believe that:

    (1) Serving flavored milk is necessary because of the teen pregnancy epidemic in DC. (Huh?) They are worried that unborn children will not receive the proper amount of calcium they need to develop if their mothers aren't served chocolate milk in the lunch line. When asked if the teens couldn't get calcium from other sources such as cheese, senior officials scoffed. They also did not seem bothered that a plan to help unborn babies get their necessary calcium might not be in the best interests of children in kindergarten.

    (2) "There is not that big of a difference in the calories of chocolate milk versus regular milk." (Really? Twice the calories--all from added high fructose corn syrup--is not a big difference?)

    (3) "There is no scientific evidence that links chocolate milk with diabetes." (By this point I was sort of astounded and couldn't imagine that people with PhDs in nutrition could possibly be saying what they were saying. But then I remembered Michael Pollan's and Marion Nestle's arguments about the narrowness of "nutrition science" and tried to calm myself down.)

    Kudos to Jeffrey Mills and others within DCPS who made the decision to pull the plug on flavored milk even in the face of pressure not to.

  6. The problem is getting support from the Principal and up. I am the sole cook for a small Catholic School in Jacksonville, NC. My second year at the helm, I banned Chocolate milk from my menu. Three weeks into the school year, I received a DELIVERY of Chocoalte milk ordered by the Principal herself. I spoke with Chef Ann Cooper and her advice was to compromise to maybe one day a week...answer, NO, daily. However, the rest of my menu offerings must be healthy and wholesome. If we do not have support from above we cannot win the war...we fight the battles we can and give up the rest...I'm still trying to do the best I can.