Monday, August 23, 2010

Got Un-Flavored Milk?

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

Notice anything different about this milk cooler at my daughter's elementary school here in the District of Columbia?

This is the place kids head first when they enter the food line in the cafeteria. In the past, there was always a scramble to get there and grab either a chocolate- or a strawberry-flavored milk. It wasn't uncommon at all to see kids at breakfast pouring a strawberry milk containing 28 grams of sugar (6.5 teaspoons) into a plastic container of Apple Jacks cereal with another 8 grams of sugar (2 teaspoons). When you added in Pop-Tarts, fruit juice and Giant Goldfish Grahams, kids in D.C. frequently were eating 60 grams of sugar (15 teaspoons) before classes even started.

And you're wondering why we have an obesity epidemic?

But earlier this summer D.C. Public Schools officials quietly determined to ditch the flavored milk and serve only cereals with six grams of sugar or less. Despite the absence of any fanfare, the decision sent reverberations around the country, and even to the United Kingdom, where Jamie Oliver featured it on his website.

True to their word, D.C. schools this morning had no flavored milk on display in the cafeteria, just what you see in this photo: low-fat and fat-free milk and orange juice. Not shown are the tubs of Honey Kix cereal being offered. They contain 4 grams of sugar per serving, according to the label.

Now we just have to get the fruit juice switched to whole fruit. Fruit juice delivers a concentrated dose of sugar in the form of fructose. It's cheap, but much better would be whole fruit, which not only contains less sugar, but also delivers the fiber that's squeezed out in the juicing process.

So take a bow, parents. Your hard work shining a light on what schools serve in the cafeteria has already paid benefits. Food service officials say they've been busy testing new products and making changes to the menu their hired food service provider, Chartwells, will be serving this year. We need to be there with the kids in the cafeteria to see how those changes unfold.


  1. Rachel, you can say something to Food Services about the yogurt. Yogurt is tough, because unless it's plain, it almost always has lots of added sugar to make it palatable. But what's the point removing flavored milk and replacing it with flavored yogurt? Did you happen to get the container it came in to see how much sugar is in it? Brand name? Nutritional information. Also, we are allowed to take photos of the food. Please e-mail me for more info. I'd love to post this stuff on the blog.

  2. It may not be perfect, but it does seem to be better than last year. Kids had breakfast in their classrooms this morning at Ludlow-Taylor, seated together around the table. I wasn't sure why they needed Honey Kix instead of regular Kix, which seem sweet enough to me, but I was very happy that it wasn't Apple Jacks, or a cellophane-wrapped piece of french toast with syrup (and no plates or forks), which is what they served this time last year.

    Our cafeteria manager told me that all the food is being sent fresh, with, for example, real chicken pieces for lunch instead of processed chicken. And I saw the tray of fresh spinach for the lunch salad myself! That alone seems to be a huge improvement over last year. Great work, everyone!

  3. This is so encouraging! So much change already in a short space of time. Yes, we have miles to go, but this is really a great development.

  4. At EW Stokes, we got rid of chocolate milk this year also! We've eliminated ALL high fructose corn syrup. We make yogurt by using low-fat plain yogurt, and adding a kind of "jam" we make with fruit in season, using just enough natural sugar to make it tasty. So far we have peach, blueberry and strawberry.
    Good move, DC Schools! Good post, Ed!

  5. If only the schools in California would join you in ditching flavored milk. Students across our nation are getting the impression that sweetened milk is part of a healthy meal. Let's face it: chocolate and strawberry-flavored milk is a dessert/treat!