Does milk still belong on school lunch menus?

Schools are finding it tough to ban chocolate milk. (AP Images)

Schools are finding it tough to ban chocolate milk. (AP Images)

Does milk still have a place on school menus? The question is provoking debate locally and nationally. And at issue is not just chocolate milk, but plain milk as well.

This week, a Decatur schools committee recommended banning chocolate milk in k-3 and phasing it out for grades 4 and up. The school board did not act on the recommendation but plans to consider further.

According to the AJC:

In coming months, Decatur school officials will weigh the cost of substituting healthier options; but will children eat them?

Clare Schexnyder, who was among the parents empaneled by the superintendent, said it’s a public health issue. Medical experts have been sounding the alarm about obesity and diabetes.

“There is just no reason to be giving them sugar to start the day,” Schexnyder said.

Some, including Diego Wren, think the proposals go too far. The 7th grader at Decatur’s Renfroe Middle School had just downed a carton of TruMoo chocolate milk in the cafeteria Thursday.

“The other milk is kind of tasteless,” he said. As for the other proposals, such as baking Tater Tots instead of drowning them in sizzling oil, well, his face bunched up in disbelief: “That would be nasty.”

Some grownups, especially those who make their living thinking of ways to get sufficient nutrition into students, fear there are taste lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Nudged along by federal mandates, though, they increasingly think fried foods are on the wrong side of the line.

U.S. Department of Agriculture school meal standards — that took effect in July — set strict calorie limits. Schools must serve more fruits and vegetables and must offer legumes weekly. They must cut all added trans fats and serve only 1 percent, or nonfat, milk. They also must serve “whole grain rich” breads and pastas.

Schools in Fairfax County, Va., banned chocolate milk in 2010 but reversed that decision a year later because of an outcry from parents, students, nutritionists and the dairy folks.

According to a 2011 Washington Post story on the issue:

Most accused the districts of acting rashly, robbing students of a tasty drink and the vitamins and minerals that fuel bone and muscle growth. “We got 10 to 20 e-mails a day,” said Penny McConnell, director of food and nutrition services for Fairfax. “It was a lot of pressure.”

This month — and partly because of that pressure — Fairfax officials announced that they would reintroduce chocolate milk in school cafeterias. The newer, low-fat version includes sucrose, which is made from sugar cane or beets, instead of high-fructose corn syrup, which some critics say is more heavily processed and, as a result, less healthy.

Such reformulations have satisfied some of chocolate milk’s critics. But most scientists and nutritionists, including those employed by local school districts, say that changing sweeteners makes little dietary difference if the total calorie content stays the same.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a  physician group based out of D.C.,  petitioned the federal government in July to remove milk as a required food from the school lunch program. The nonprofit group called milk an “ineffective placebo” and cited research that milk does not improve bone health and does not prevent bone fractures and injury in children and adults.

According to a statement:

“The promotion of milk ingestion in children is, in effect, the promotion of an ineffective placebo,” the petition states. It adds that other products, including calcium-enriched soymilk and rice milk, contain calcium but, unlike dairy milk, are low in sodium and free of animal protein that can cause calcium to be excreted from the body

The petition, filed July 19, asks the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a report to Congress recommending an amendment to the National School Lunch Act. The amendment would exclude dairy milk as a required component of school lunches. Milk, the petition argues, does not improve bone health or reduce the risk of osteoporosis and can actually create other health risks, especially later in life.

“Milk doesn’t make children grow taller and stronger, but it can make them heavier,” says PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “We are asking Congress and the USDA to put children’s interests above the interests of the dairy industry. Focusing on milk as the single most important source of calcium in children’s diets distracts schools and parents from foods that can actually build bones, like beans and leafy greens.”

Among the other 10 recommendations by Decatur’s Ultimate Menu Committee: Eliminate processed baked products, such as muffins, pancakes, waffles and french toast, and replace with healthier versions. Ditto for chips, chicken nuggets, shrimp poppers and Tater Tots. The committee also advised replacing processed cheese with real cheese and ending high sugar desserts.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

101 comments Add your comment


September 8th, 2012
11:49 am

What a silly thing to worry about. Milk isn’t the culprit of childhood obesity.

The serving size offered by the school lunch program is small. The only choices are 2% white or chocolate milk.

Perhaps the lack of physical exercise, breakfast and lunches filled with processed carbs (sugar, white flour, potatoes,etc.), fried foods, and snack machines around every corner plays a bigger role.

The other 10 recommendations at the end of the article make sense.

Dawgdad (The Original)

September 8th, 2012
11:51 am

You gotta be kidding me, what is going to be their choices now, kale juice or fresh warm tap water. Kids have been drinking milk since Aristotle, but we are so “evolved” that only now, have we discovered how harmful it is. I used to drink a half gallon a day as a teenager and have the same waist size as I did in high school. Gimme a break, kids need lots of exercise (sports,play, and chores) and plenty of traditional type food, with a desert thrown in for a treat.

No wonder America is in decline, with silly proposals like this.


September 8th, 2012
11:51 am

And what would the kids drink at lunch?


September 8th, 2012
11:59 am

Ah, for those bygone days when we fed kids pancakes for dinner to stretch the family budget….

My kids’ teachers use candy as an incentive in class. And this is one of the better schools in the state.

It’s not a half-pint of chocolate milk a day that’s making your kid overweight.


September 8th, 2012
12:14 pm

There is plenty of evidence for the need to include milk as part of a child’s daily diet. There should be no debate about that. There is also evidence that reducing sugar consumption is good for children’s health. Surely there is a balanced and sensible decision point out there.

The real crime in all this is in the rules of the USDA school nutrition program. Milk must be served. This guarantees the dairy industry a stable, reliable income that is subsidized by the taxpayers. It prevents schools from substituting other forms of dairy products in school lunches. Yogurts and cheeses are served, but are never substituted for milk.

As long as we focus on trivial arguments like this one (white milk vs. chocolate milk), we miss the big picture arguments about who is actually controlling the food choices in our school lunch programs.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

September 8th, 2012
12:16 pm

Let’s keep fat-free milk(I love it.) but remove high-fructose drinks, items with high-glycemic indices and foods with low nutrient loads.

mountain man

September 8th, 2012
12:19 pm

Why don’t we just limit kids to eating Nutriloaf and drinking water? Even prisoners get better than that!

taco taco

September 8th, 2012
12:34 pm

I remember eating school lunch one day. I looked at both chocolate milk and regular milk nutrition contents on the paper container and boy the chocolate milk has alot of sugar.


September 8th, 2012
12:45 pm

unbelievable……as an earlier poster said, it is inactivity, not the food, that is resulting in fat kids. Kids need milk for healthy bones and teeth……


September 8th, 2012
12:50 pm

@ByteMe – that happened at my children’s school, too. The teacher wanted to limit ice cream because of the “sugar,” but then that same teacher used Jolly Ranchers for the math lesson. Needless to say, the ice cream was not limited.

and ALL milk has high amounts of sugars – think back to your chemistry, “lactose” is a sugar. One cup of regular, whole milk has 13g of sugars. Just because the label lists “sugars,” doesn’t mean it is all added sugars.

If schools are so concerned about children’s health, maybe a no/low homework policy so the kids have time to PLAY OUTSIDE would be more productive than removing a small carton of milk!

mountain man

September 8th, 2012
12:58 pm

Another social experiment that takes attention away from the primary reason for schools: EDUCATION.

mountain man

September 8th, 2012
12:59 pm

If they were so concerned about childhood obesity, they would not have removed the playgrounds and eliminated recess!

Gwinnett Parent

September 8th, 2012
1:03 pm

I grew up without chocolate milk as an option in k-8 and survived. Some of the kids that were really determined to have chocolate milk brought Nesquick to school. None of my friends from back in the day ever complain about being deprived. If a parent must have a high sugary drink for their kid, they should just pack their kid’s lunch and not expect the school to provide it.

mountain man

September 8th, 2012
1:14 pm

Goodness, it is amazing that we all survived drinking milk when we were young. I am surprized the human race has not gone extinct! Milk is bad for you, apple pie is bad for you, baseball is bad for you, next we will hear that patriotism is bad for you.

Here is a novel idea – let parents choose what their kids eat.

It's Decatur What Do you Expect?

September 8th, 2012
2:10 pm

Ed Johnson

September 8th, 2012
2:28 pm

So I go have lunch with my grandson at his elementary school. He picks up a chocolate milk, Mayfield, and so do I. Read the label. A main ingredient? High Fructose Corn Syrup. Sugar, not listed. Put the chocolate milk back and picked up an orange juice. A main ingredient? High Fructose Corn Syrup. Sugar, not listed. Put the orange juice back. Settled for water. Had discussion with grandson.

E-mailed the principal to ask why serve kids High Fructose Corn Syrup laced with milk. Principal said, ask the school’s nutritionist. School’s nutritionist said, ask the school board. Called Mayfield to ask why lace High Fructose Corn Syrup with milk. Waiting for a reply.

Drank my great share of chocolate milk back in the day. Back then, chocolate milk was chocolate milk, often home delivered. Today, it’s High Fructose Corn Syrup laced with chocolate milk.

So, kudos to Decatur schools committee for recommending banning the stuff in K-3 and phasing it out in the rest of grades.

Lately, there seems a move afoot to get people thinking bad thoughts about sugar so they’ll pay no mind to High Fructose Corn Syrup. Bad mouthing more-expensive-to-produce sugar to allow cheaply made High Fructose Corn Syrup to go unscathed helps to keep corporate profit margins high, as foods that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup take on shelf lives not unlike that of Twinkies.

Commentary and research…

“Equivalent or Not, High Fructose Corn Syrup Isn’t Sugar”

“A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain”

[...] locally and nationally. And at issue is not just chocolate milk, but plain milk as well.”(more)    Comments (0) Return to main news [...]

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

September 8th, 2012
3:03 pm

I can see where parents would support a soft drink ban, but chocolate milk??? One would think Decatur Schools has greater issues of concern…we’re all nannies these days I guess.


September 8th, 2012
3:28 pm

mountain man said it best at 1:14: “…let the parents decide…” Gee, that is a novel concept–except for one thing. The government is involved in our schools. Milk, chocolate milk, juice. I drank all three as a child, and I’m still living, and I’m not fat. There are more important issues in our schools today. Let’s deal with those.

Margaret Hanson-Thomlinson

September 8th, 2012
3:37 pm

All of the people talking about how milk is so good, etc. name another animal that drinks milk. It is for young mammals that cannot digest other types of food.

Human beings were not meant to drink cow milk or milk in general past infancy.

Take this little fact into consideration:

“In the rest of the world (i.e., East and Southeast Asia, the Americas and Australia) milk and dairy products were historically not a large part of the diet, either because they remained populated by hunter-gatherers who did not keep animals or the local agricultural economies did not include domesticated dairy species. Milk consumption became common in these regions comparatively recently, as a consequence of European colonialism and political domination over much of the world in the last 500 years.”


September 8th, 2012
3:37 pm

Here’s the problem. First you get a commentary from a “health advocate” and “dedicated mom.” In other words, someone who has no business acting like they are any type of expert on the subject. Then you give a nutrition study done by a psychologist, instead of a real scientist. Naturally, he did some tweeks that make it difficult to compare the results, like differing the concentration of beet/cane sugar vs. sugar from corn. Actually, it sounds like, according to his study, you would do better drinking full calorie soft drinks instead of a low calorie one.

We’ve got school boards making decisions based on “mommy bloggers” whose knowledge is based on internet message boards, instead of actual science.

And we’ve got this paranoia about obesity when 70% of the kids in many urban districts are on free lunch, meaning getting ENOUGH calories is an issue, in addition to getting enough nutrition.


September 8th, 2012
3:52 pm

Although it’s not my top school priority, I would support a ban on chocolate milk. I agree with Mr. Johnson that it’s nothing more then high fructose corn syrup laced with milk. Chocolate milk is nothing but junk food. You may as well be giving them a candy bar every day for lunch.

We do buy chocolate milk at home, maybe once per month for a sweet treat. I view it the same way as ice cream. I don’t serve it with meals, but will allow them to have a glass AFTER DINNER for dessert. There is no reason schools should be serving junk every single day to kids.

Another thing to think about… Although endocrinologist can’t say for sure, most believe that the growth hormones in milk is what’s causing early puberty in many kids. We only drink Organic at home (outside of that once per month chocolate milk treat).


September 8th, 2012
4:02 pm

The first grade teacher and I banned chocolate milk for our classes because they drank the milk and ate next to nothing. This was 30 years ago. Catch up, folks! We don’t need to be feeding the kids hormones. Fruit juice or water would be so much better!


September 8th, 2012
4:07 pm

Also, our children should not be made to support the dairy lobby. Trillions of dollars of subsidy! Just say NO to milk, after the child is weaned.

Anyone read the Time magazine article this week on how ALL of us get welfare? AGain, it is what I have been saying for years.

Kira Willis

September 8th, 2012
4:45 pm

Whatsay we discuss the fact that some classes don’t have enough books? That class sizes are rising every year? That the Federal Government is handicapping us at every turn? That the state is now wanting to/going to implement a new graduation track that they want in place…wait for it…NEXT YEAR!

concerned citizen

September 8th, 2012
4:49 pm

Sorry but the claim that drinking cow’s milk will cause human’s to excrete calcium is incredibly over stated. Excessive protein in the diet can lead to kidney problems that can cause calcium to be excreted. The amount of protein found in a carton of milk will not set any child ( except one with already established kidney disease) down the path to calcium deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency might be a bigger issue if milk is off the lunch menu as in many places kids no longer get to have recess outside and rarely get the adequate sun exposure for natural vit d formulation.
Of all the things to micro manage in school with the off the chart test regimes, limited physical activity and focus on test drill and kill, milk being on the menu is pretty minor issue. How about having a full school year fully funded by the state budget and having trained pe teachers and other teachers and nurses in schools to help with the physical and mental well being of children.
The relative sugar content of a carton of milk, the relative protein content of a carton of milk is ridiculous in light of the 20 % poverty rate for children in this country.

Big Mama

September 8th, 2012
4:50 pm

Perhaps the school systems should require the dairy manufacturers to reduce the sugar content, eliminate the high-fructose corn syrup, and use milk only from cows that have not been treated with growth hormones. If all schools demanded this, the dairy industry would comply. But it might cost more, to do……

bootney farnsworth

September 8th, 2012
5:02 pm

the system is collapsing and we’re worried about milk?

how ’bout this: let them drink Vodka

Pride and Joy

September 8th, 2012
5:04 pm

I agree we shoyuld limite chocolate milk. My children never drank chocolate milk at home until they got it at school and then they wanted it at home. My kids drink skim milk. That’s what we should serve at school — skim milk — lots of it.

mountain man

September 8th, 2012
5:30 pm

I have said it before:

Hear about the new government study? The government spent millions of dollars doing a statistical study and found out this statistic: 100% of all people who live…die. Now the FDA is looking into banning living as hazardous to your health!

Pride and Joy

September 8th, 2012
6:07 pm

Byteme makes a good point “My kids’ teachers use candy as an incentive in class. And this is one of the better schools in the state.”

My kids attended a so-called candy-free school and the teachers told us NOT to bring candy on Valentine’s day but guess what?
The teacher gave every kid in the class a HUGE fat pastry stuffed with sugar and more sugar filling.
Abotu 800 calories worth.
I guess this teacher, who also cannot speak nor write common, standard, English, doesn’t not understand that the creamy filling in a huge pastyry and all the carbs and sugar in the pastry far outweigh (pun intended) a 25 calorie sucker taped to a valentine.

I agree 2% milk is too fat. I don’t use it at home and chocolate in milk at school should not be served but …skim cow’s milk is OK and so is rice milk and soy milk. All of those are good options.

Pride and Joy

September 8th, 2012
6:10 pm

catlady, you are so wrong about “Fruit juice or water would be so much better!”
Water — you’re absolutely right.
Fruit juice — you’re absolutely wrong, particularly apple juice. It’s all sugar. You might as well give a kid a Coke.

old fashioned

September 8th, 2012
6:44 pm

Get the government out of it. I attended a RESA meeting recently where USDA and State Dept of Ed gurus spelled out lunch regulations. Idiots. Fat free this, whole grain that. This much green. That much red. Portion size this. Free choice this. No choice that. I never heard so much foolishness in one meeting.

All it does is increase cost. The kids don’t eat it and its thrown out. The kids are hungry after school so they drink a big gulp, a biggie fry and 2 fat burgers and chase it with another big gulp.

Government is really solving problems aren’t they. Give the kids low fat chocolate milk and shut up.

Decatur Parent

September 8th, 2012
7:01 pm

I’m really not concerned about chocolate milk on my daughter’s school menu. It’s low in fat and high calcium. I am glad that CSD is taking a closer look at frozen fried foods in the lunchroom. I’d like to see more fresh local ingredients, though I do understand the logistical challenges that such a menu shift will present. Appreciate the collaborative efforts of CSD’S school nutrition program and our system’s support of the Farm to School initiative.


September 8th, 2012
7:12 pm

Did I read correctly the teacher helped ban chocolate milk! Your paid to teach not decide what food the should eat or drink.


September 8th, 2012
7:23 pm

Sounds pretty much like Charter Schools…marginal at Best! does very little to work for ALL.


September 8th, 2012
9:07 pm

Don’t let these misinformed yuppies keep your kids from one of the few healthful activities they indulge in these days: drinking milk.


September 8th, 2012
9:08 pm

The doctors’ group quoted is a PETA group; they may not be most interested in nutrition. I’m kind of surprised you published it without commentary about that point.


September 8th, 2012
9:26 pm

I for one am tired of everyone blaming school lunches for all our children’s problems, your children are over weight becasue we have allowed P.E. to be elimanated from school, your children are over weight becasue instead of outside playing they have all the electronic games to entertain them, your children are over weight because we allow unhealth snacks instead of fresh vegetables and fruit, if you are not happy with school meals pack you child their lunch. School Nutrition has so may regulations to follow (reduce salt, reduce trans fats, serve more fruit an raw vegetables, bake no frying, increase fiber to name a few)to include trying to inforce the mandated wellness policy only to have schools ignore it and sell ice cream, no calorie sodas, candies, doughnuts, cookie doughs etc to make extra money so they can “do things” for students because their budgets are cut every year and as said in other comments you want to debate a 8 ounce carton of milk when graduation rates are going down, parents have pumped antibiotics in their child to get them back in the classroom for years, communities leaders and legislators cut education funding before their travel expenses…just remember this the next time you give your child ice cream.


September 8th, 2012
9:42 pm

Catlady is right! The Dairy Industry has a lot of lobbyists and the school nutrition program has been a big “cash cow” (no pun intended) for them since its inception in about 1950. ( I think “Hummon” was the governor that got it going in Georgia, or at least that’s what he said!) Not likely that the dairy people will take an attempt to reduce or eliminate dairy products in the schools without a big fight!

My goodness...

September 8th, 2012
9:52 pm

There ya go, focus on this “issue” while thousands of kids go through the system functionally illiterate. Priorities!

No fan of cow juice

September 8th, 2012
10:06 pm

Who ever decided humans needed this much milk to start with? The dairy lobby perhaps?
Humans are the only mammals after 6mo that keeps drinking milk- why?
Dr Denmark always said there was no reason to keep giving it to babies after 6mo(sorry crazy breast feeding obsessed people)
Tons of allergies and other medical issues can be linked to milk

Goat chin

September 8th, 2012
10:51 pm

It is the Federal government pushing new guidelines, which is the Obama administration. For good or bad like it or not it is up to the school to try and comply, in this case the parents demands. I don’t like it, choc milk tastes good and kids don’t have to buy it, but all the fried stuff needs to be reduced.


September 8th, 2012
11:04 pm

The focus on healthy foods this year has bordered on the absurd. As Cafeterias struggle to adhere to all of the healthy new regulations, much of the food is winding up in the trash. While I agree that healthy is better it at least needs to be appetizing. Kids are coming home hungry every day because the new lunch guidelines have resulted in tasteless, cardboard like food. For example, the PB&J sandwich has become the PB sandwich. Cafeteria said the new guidelines would not allow jelly to be served due to the high sugar content.

Reinstate recess. This will help more than anything.


September 8th, 2012
11:33 pm

PCRM are pseudoscientists with an agenda that doesn’t need to be imposed on our kids.


September 8th, 2012
11:39 pm

The question surrounding the benefit of cow’s milk in the human diet is not a new question. As a Dr. Denmark baby I was not raised on a glass of milk with meals. My children do not drink milk and they are the picture of health. People ask where do you get your calcium?? They same way cows do- green leafy veggies. Why are we the only animal that drinks another animals milk? What other animalin a natural setting continues to drink milk after it has been wean? See documentary Fork Over Knife and Engine 2 Diet for a new take on this age old question about milk. Consider who is telling us that milk is good for us and what evidenced based research is compelling us to believe milk is good for the human body.

Sad for DeKalb

September 8th, 2012
11:45 pm

Before we start on the chocolate milk bandwagon, perhaps we should begin with eliminating ice cream and jumbo lunches from schools first. Why would a young child need an adult sized serving of chicken nuggets or twice the amount of beefaroni? At my school, the students eat their ice cream first so it won’t melt then leave the veggies and fruit on the plate because they are full. I’d be all for leaving ice cream and jumbo lunches off the menu choices!!! If a child needs more calories, let their parents police and manage that at home!


September 9th, 2012
12:11 am

Ms. Levin is a vegan, so of course she does not support dairy in the school system. Dairy products contain highly absorbable calcium, while dark leafy greens and dried beans have varying amounts of bioavailable calcium. In addition, milk provides vitamin D. I suggest milk choice not milk elimination.

another comment

September 9th, 2012
1:54 am

When I was a child growing up we were had to drink a glass of whole milk min, with every dinner. We did not know the difference. My mother used whole cream in her coffee, eventually moving to half and half. Today at age 86, she uses full fat milk in her milk, but finally drinks 2% milk. When we go to visit her, we have to purchase our own milk as my youngest daughter is lactose intolerant and can only drink lactose free milk, we buy it only in Fat Free form.

If you want hormone free milk and meats you must not purchase your milk and meats at Walmart. We only purchase our meats, incl, chicken and fish, along with milk at Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s and Whole Market. My children are both in the 15-25% in weight.

By the way I splurge and have low fat chocolate milk when I go out for breakfast. After being forced to drink Milk for 17 years, I have no taste for it at all unless it has some flavoring. So isn’t it better to have some with some flavoring?


September 9th, 2012
6:01 am

Cow’s milk has one purpose–to double a calf’s weight in 50 days, after which it starts eating grass.
In centuries past consuming milk and products made from milk was much better than starving to death in mid-winter, but no humans should be consuming it these days.