Confronted with a long-running food fight over whether to serve children flavored milk — chocolate, strawberry, banana, vanilla — in homes and in schools, parents instinctively may want to duck the issue.
But, in the end, they’re going to have to think, and act, in what they see as their child’s best interests.
Opponents of flavored milks view them as nutritional booby traps, unnecessary sources of sugar and fat. School districts across the country have banned these milks from cafeterias.
Supporters of flavored milks emphasize the good-for-you components found in the milk: calcium, vitamins, nutrients.
Kids who won’t drink regular milk will often drink flavored milk, they say, arguing flavored milks are better choices than sodas.
“Kids are not drinking enough milk, we know that,” said Jean Daniel, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We need to look at common-sense ways to reduce calories and fat while getting them the essential nutrients. There has to be a balance.”
Proposed regulations governing school lunches look only at the fat content of milks in cafeterias. Only nonfat flavored milks would be permitted as of the 2012-2013 school year if the guidelines are passed, Daniel said.
There are those who insist flavored milks teach children the wrong lesson.
“What chocolate milk in schools does is to tell kids by example that they don’t have to drink milk unless it is sweet, that foods aren’t good unless they are sweet, and that schools think flavored milks are good for kids,” said Marion Nestle, a nutritionist, New York University professor and influential author of “What to Eat.” “Think of chocolate milk as candy or a dessert, and you get an idea of what the problem might be.”
Treating chocolate milk like candy may be one way to get a handle on serving flavored milk. Consider it an occasional treat, not a regular part of the child’s diet, said Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin, Texas-based pediatrician and co-author of “Expecting 411.”
“If you make it standard fare, why would your child ever accept plain old milk?” Brown asked.
“If your child, age 2 and above, won’t drink plain milk, or eat dairy products, then offer a calcium and vitamin D supplement and water as a beverage.”
Joy Dubost, a spokeswoman for the Institute of Food Technologists, believes serving unflavored milk with the lowest possible fat content is the preferred route to take. But Dubost, who is director of nutrition and healthy living for the National Restaurant Association in Washington notes it’s better to serve flavored milk than none at all because of milk’s nutritional value.
“The trade-offs for all those nutrients is extra calories, yes, but there are other ways to cut back on the added sugar,” she said.