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There are a lot of things I do that probably make me a bad parent at times -- but serving my daughter chocolate milk isn't one of them. Yep, that’s right: I serve it to my kid on a regular basis. (I'll pause for the cries of outrage, and a potentially urgent phone call from TV chef and school-lunch-crusader Jamie Oliver.)
Flavored milk is the controversy du jour, with parents and nutritionists passionately coming down on both sides and many school districts banning it (or considering banning it). Los Angeles Unified, in fact, the nation’s second-largest school district, recently announced a push to remove chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus.
Here's the problem: As a growing four year old, my daughter needs the calcium and vitamin D in milk, but she absolutely refuses to drink it plain. (I know some people will argue that she'd learn to drink it if that was all I offered -- but those people haven’t met my daughter.) So my husband and I decided that flavored milk is better than no milk at all. Our compromise: We buy “lite” chocolate and strawberry syrup and use just enough to add flavor to her one glass a day.
Several national, well-respected groups agree with me, according to an article from the Associated Press. The School Nutrition Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association and National Medical Association released a joint press release in 2009 that points to "studies that show kids who drink fat-free, flavored milk meet more of their nutrient needs and are not heavier than non-milk drinkers."
But others liken flavored milk to soda, and argue that it leads to obesity, rotting teeth and other health problems. And it's true, as Oliver pointed out on a recent episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, that an 8-ounce serving of flavored milk served at one Los Angeles school has a whopping 28 grams of sugar.
But that's way more sugar than the homemade version I make for my daughter. A serving of the syrup we use is 1 to 2 tablespoons per 8 ounces and has 10 to 13 grams of sugar, depending on which flavor, and we use about half of the serving size. So say the syrup adds 6 grams of sugar to the 11 grams of sugar that 2% milk already contains. That's 17 grams of sugar -- which doesn’t seem so bad. So why does school milk have to have so much sugar?!
Turns out it doesn’t. Several school districts are switching to reduced sugar varieties of flavored milk, made with beet sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
To me, that's a reasonable solution (that and and eliminating French fries as a vegetable in school lunches, which makes much more sense than coming after milk) but until your school district makes the switch, do what Joy Bauer, nutrition and health expert for TODAY, advises: Let your kid drink water with their school lunch, and make the less-sugary flavored milk at home.