While I was leaving the science fair at my daughter's elementary school last winter, I noticed another project of hers hanging up on the wall in the hallway. It was around Martin Luther King Day, and her teacher asked each child to write an "I Have A Dream" essay in class. Her dream: a healthier school lunch! I was much more proud of that essay than the ribbon she won at the science fair because it 100-percent came from her heart.
Fast-forward six months: My daughter's dream has come true. The school's meals are now chock full of fresh fruit, whole grains, and lean protein—and I'm off the hook of packing a lunch everyday. But one change has left me torn—chocolate milk got the boot like it has in many other schools around the country.
On the one hand, I know that chocolate milk contains a lot of added sugar. A cup of plain low-fat milk packs about 12 grams of sugar while the same amount of the flavored kind offers 22 grams; that's about 2 1/2 extra teaspoons or roughly 40 calories worth. Kids eat way too much added sugar (300 to 350 calories worth daily for 6- to 11-year-olds, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) so I understand that ditching chocolate milk may help lower kids' consumption of added sugar to a more reasonable amount. What's reasonable? The 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggest that no more than 5 to 15 percent of calories come from added sugar—that's about 75 to 150 calories for children who take in about 1,500 calories daily.
But unlike candy, soda and other high-sugar treats (which I don't think should be in schools), milk has a redeeming value nutritionally—calcium. Kids ages 9 and up, like my daughter, need a whopping 1,300 milligrams of calcium daily (500 milligrams more than 4- to 8-year-olds) so I've got to fit in a good source of the mineral at every meal. I wish that my daughter drank plain milk—and, yes, I have tried over and over again—but she genuinely dislikes it. Without milk, many of the lunches that her school offers aren't particularly high in calcium so I'm having to cram in more at breakfast and dinner on the days she buys lunch. And since we only eat dessert a couple of times a week and don't buy sugary cereal or snacks, she's well within the limits of added sugar—even on days when she has two cups of low-fat chocolate milk.
So my daughter's latest "dream" is to bring back chocolate milk. I am hopeful after reading about one school in Massachusetts, which returned chocolate milk to its menu after a year-long hiatus. The principal told me that students actually petitioned her about it. Of course, a number of factors went into her decision, but I love that kids took the matter in their own hands. Tell me if chocolate milk is still served at your child's school.