The Feds are coming for kids chocolate milk. Also, other school menu items that school kids will actually eat. Teachers, parents, school cafeteria cooks, school nutritionists and kids are in an uproar over a policy decision so dire that it might cause school kids to go hungry and thirsty.
The anger was prompted by a February proposal from the USDA aimed at making school meals healthier by limiting the amount of added sugar and sodium in breakfasts and lunches. The USDA reimburses schools for a portion of nearly every meal they provide, which gives it some say over what foods schools offer.
No element of the February proposal has generated more vitriol than a suggestion that the agency might stop reimbursing schools for chocolate milk served to children in elementary and middle school.
Most chocolate milks have about 20 grams of sugar per carton — roughly half of which is added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends kids consume just 25 grams of added sugar in a full day. But parents, teachers, and school officials simply aren’t having it. They insist children won’t drink unflavored milk — so the proposal would rob them of necessary calcium — and force them to go thirsty.
Apparently even kids are writing letters to the USDA to complain.
“You’re wasting white milk and money,” wrote Ben, who identified himself as a fourth grader. “Another reason you should bring back chocolate milk is because students are super MAD.”
“Kids are getting dehydrated. Everyone I know likes chocolate milk. This is why chocolate milk should stay!” wrote another fourth grader named Delilah.
The USDA is trying to reduce the use of sodium and added sugar, two ingredients that tend to make bland foods taste better. A carton of chocolate milk has 80% of the daily recommended allowance of sugar kids are supposed to eat all day. I even like chocolate milk. We buy dark chocolate almond milk. I was amazed that it has 17 grams of added sugar per eight ounce serving.
It’s also not the first time efforts to rein in chocolate milk drinking have caused an uproar. New York Mayor Eric Adams quickly abandoned a plan earlier last year to ban chocolate milk in schools after outrage in the press and from members of Congress.
Although school lunches are healthier than ever before, school nutritionists say it will be difficult for schools to adapt to stricter standards. Most schools rely on premade foods because they don’t have the staff, facilities or time to cook from scratch. Thus, they can’t easily reduce salt and sugar in the foods they serve. I recall seeing photos of grade school lunchroom trash receptacles several years back. The amount of wasted food, such as (healthy) apples, was huge. The World Wildlife Fund estimates food waste in U.S. schools is 530,000 tons a year. That’s 1.06 billion pounds of wasted food. That’s a lot of healthy apples, white unflavored cow’s milk and truckloads of green beans and tofu.
Students, in all grades, waste vegetables and fruit the most, representing more than 50% of their plate waste. Eggs and poultry, the researchers found, were the least-wasted food category. In this study, researchers saw that the cafeteria often served baked beans, and almost all the baked beans served were thrown away by younger students.
The federal government can’t really be faulted for preferring to pay for healthy foods fed to school kids (often for free). However, how healthy is food that goes uneaten? My wife likes to eat Swiss chard and kale sautéed in garlic butter almost every day. I know kids would never eat it. When I was a child, my mother sometimes made broccoli. Us kids loved it because it was smothered in Velveeta cheese. Even a salad tastes good if it’s smothered in home-made ranch dressing or home-made Caesar dressing with parmesan cheese and croutons. Of course, cheese and dressing sort of negates the healthy aspect.
As a child I remember how my 2nd grade teacher Miss Dick would make us eat at least one bite of every item on our tray. None of us kids liked the dinner rolls served with each meal. It was not uncommon for dinner rolls to mysteriously land on the floor underneath our table. The teacher always knew who they belonged to because they were the only ones missing from a lunch tray. I also remember a kid gagging when he was forced to eat a bite of a dinner role he didn’t want to eat. Good luck forcing kids to eat what the USDA perceives as “healthy” foods.