Is Chocolate Milk OK for Kids?
Yum, Most children would jump at the chance to drink some chocolate milk, yet schools, dietitians, and parents have received conflicting guidelines over the past few years as to whether chocolate milk, as part of growing child’s diet, is “healthy” or “unhealthy.” So what should you do? As a pediatrician and dietitian, we look at the science, we like to consider the whole child & their eating habits/preferences, and we prefer whole foods when making recommendations to parents. It’s with that lens that we consider chocolate milk.
Can it be part of a healthy diet for kids?
Studies have shown that flavored milk represents 70% of all milk consumed in schools. Several years ago when school districts across the country opted to eliminate chocolate milk as a choice for school meals, it was very unpopular among students. Eliminating the choice meant that many kids opted for no milk at all instead of foregoing chocolate milk and choosing white milk, which meant that those kids missed out on some important nutrients.
A typical diet for kids (adults too) falls short of four key nutrients – calcium, potassium, vitamin D and fiber. Milk – both chocolate and regular – contains 3 of these four nutrients (calcium, potassium, and vitamin D), and getting the recommended 3 daily servings of dairy can go a long way toward closing the gap on those key nutrients. But meeting this recommendation is difficult for most people. Keeping chocolate milk as an option on the school lunch line helps!
In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the USDA implemented standards that allow schools to sell flavored milk as part of school meal options as long as it is fat-free – the goal is to keep the nutrients but minimize the total calorie content. Portion sizes are limited to 8oz for elementary students and 12oz for middle and high school students. These portions, available on school meal lines across the country, are ideal for growing bodies, and the small amounts of added sugar balance the need for kids to eat nutrient-rich foods that they enjoy and want to eat. Taste is king! The added sugar in chocolate milk contributes less than 4% of added sugars to a child’s diet, and as health professionals, we would rather that kiddos reach for chocolate milk than no milk at all.
“Milk consumption at the noon meal is critical and is correlated with overall diet quality as well as calcium intake. Studies have shown that flavored milk consumption is not associated with weight gain or even a higher total daily sugar intake in children.” – American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement 2015
So, yes, chocolate milk can be and is part of a healthy diet for kids. Good nutrition is about monitoring, moderation, and balance.
• I would rather kids opt for chocolate milk than no milk at all.
• I would rather kids opt for chocolate milk than soda or other beverages that deliver few to no nutrients
• I like that chocolate milk is a whole food – as part of a balanced diet, the small amounts of added sugar don’t concern me.
• For parents who are concerned that their kids will only drink chocolate milk or drink too much, I encourage them to offer white milk at home, and allow their kids to drink chocolate milk at school. Good nutrition is about finding balance and enjoyment!
Chocolate Milk Resources: