Schools Prep for a "New" Lunch Line With More Whole Grains, Colorful Fruits and Veggies and Nutrient-Rich Milk

Fat Free Chocolate Milk is on the New Menu: USDA Guidelines and America's Moms Recognize the Positive Impact on Kids' Nutrition.

As schools are hard at work adding more whole grains and boosting fruits and veggies to revamp school lunch menus in line with the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) new school lunch guidelines, chocolate milk has already undergone a makeover that schools, parents and kids can all feel good about. Starting this summer, all chocolate milk served for school lunch will be lower in calories and sugar, with no fat, yet with all the same essential nutrients.

Over the past five years, the nation's milk processors have been hard at work to lower the calories and sugar in school flavored milk, while continuing to deliver a nutritious and delicious drink kids love. School flavored milk now has 38 percent less added sugar than just five years ago and on average, just 31 calories more than white milk. The majority have fewer than 150 calories per serving. The numbers are expected to be even lower when kids return to school next fall, complying with the new guidelines that include fat free and lowfat white milk and fat free chocolate milk on the school lunch line.

The Importance of Choices

For many moms, a key ingredient on the new school lunch menus is choice. Four out of five moms (79 percent) believe kids need healthy choices at school including chocolate milk, according to a recent survey, while three in four (77 percent) say they think their children should be able to choose which beverage to drink at school.

The vast majority (86 percent) agree – and more than half (56 percent) strongly agree – that food choices should not be made based on calories and sugar alone, and feel it's important to make choices based on the entire nutrient package.

Offering nutritious choices in school helps kids learn food and nutrition lessons and research suggests "choice" helps boost kids' overall intake of nutritious foods. For example, Cornell University researchers found that children ate more carrots when they were offered a choice between carrots or celery, compared to when they only were provided carrots.

"Kids simply drink more milk when flavored milk is available. It's equally important that school meals are appealing, as they are nutritious," says Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, associate clinical professor of pediatrics. "Along with good nutrition, food choices need to be practical, so they don't end up in the trash."

Nutrient Advantage

Flavored milk is the most popular choice in school lunch rooms, and kids drink less milk and get fewer nutrients when it's taken away. Whether flavored or white, milk has 9 essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium, which are all "nutrients of concern" that most kids fail to get enough of. Many kids are falling short of the recommended milk each day. When they skip milk at lunch, they're not likely to make up for it the rest of their day.

"Many children are overfed but undernourished, so focusing on kids' nutrient intake is more essential now than ever before," says Ayoob. "Removing nutrient-rich flavored milk from school creates unintended consequences for kids' nutrition, and the new USDA guidelines aim to improve nutrition in schools and reduce childhood obesity. Focusing only on sugar at the expense of critical nutrients is not going to solve anything."

Research suggests flavored milk drinkers have more nutritious diets and do not consume more added sugars than non-milk drinkers, and studies show flavored milk contributes just 3 percent of added sugars to kids' diets compared to sodas and fruit drinks, which account for close to half of the added sugar and deliver much less, if any, nutritional value.

Moms Support Flavored Milk

Moms recognize that the availability of chocolate milk increases milk intake for some children who do not drink white milk, and the majority of moms do not support removing chocolate milk from schools. A recent survey of 1,000 moms found that more than half (54 percent) would be opposed to a decision made by their children's schools or school districts to stop offering chocolate milk. Moms agree that chocolate milk is a great way to give kids nutrients they need (71 percent) and removing chocolate milk from a child's diet, does not significantly reduce added sugar intake, but it does remove critical nutrients kids need for growth and development (80 percent).

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