“If you don’t put milk on the lunch tray, you don’t get a federal reimbursement,” explained Andy Novakovic, Cornell University economist, of milk’s relationship with the nation’s schools on the August 19 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream. His experience comes from serving on the New York State Department of Agriculture School Lunch Task Force.
Despite milk’s prominent place in the lunch line, we know that students do not always drink the milk they take or are given — for any number of taste or preference reasons. To combat this taste issue, the dairy industry often turns to flavored and fuller-fat milks. However, these products come under fire for their added sugar or fat. School officials, parents, and nutrition experts must determine if the tradeoff is worth it.
Chocolate milk still packs a punch
The answer can be yes, says Yvonne Greer, a registered dietician. Greer worked with the Milwaukee Health Department in Wisconsin for 22 years and assisted in school meal planning. As she continues nutrition consulting around the city today, she highlighted that what we eat as children sets the stage for what we eat as adults.
It’s for that reason that she’s heard some clients worry about added sugars in the diet and that children given chocolate milk will develop a sweet tooth. Alternatively, Greer recognized that when paired with physical activity, chocolate milk is valuable for development.
“If a child is burning off those extra calories and they have a healthy lifestyle with a healthy plate, some people feel that sugar is worth getting the protein, the vitamins, and the minerals that support that child in their growth,” Greer said. “Then that’s not going to change the whole tale of their health picture.”
Added Tammy Anderson-Wise of the Dairy Council of California, “We have to remember that the amount of sugar in school milk is minimal. The dairy industry has done a great job in innovating over time to bring down the amount of sugar in school milk.”
Milkfat encourages choice
Dairy fat has had a bumpy road over the last few decades, and it continues to bear some of those scars, even as newer research finds neutral or beneficial effects of saturated fats. The reception of dietary fats is also a sign of our times, as Greer described.
“We have a calcium crisis, but we have a childhood obesity epidemic and now type 2 diabetes,” she explained. With that backdrop, she hears concerns that adults have the responsibility to provide children the healthiest foods possible, especially when there is little choice involved in government-provided food such as school lunches or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligible purchases. “Some people feel that feeding them a lower-fat milk is healthier to avoid the childhood obesity,” Greer added.
“You did point out some of the newer research, though, that is saying butterfat in milk products and in general is not really the cause of the increases in heart disease,” she recognized. “Some have been looking at the sugar, the amount of simple carbohydrates, and the refined foods over time. When everything went low-fat, the sugar content went up in a lot of different products, and we’re finding out that the body then makes more fat from the sugar.
“You might see a few things a little different as far choices moving forward as the guidelines catch up with the research,” Greer predicted.
Novakovic reminded that all milks provide valuable nutrients, and it is important for the dairy community to balance our perspective with the needs of our customers. Schools should have the freedom to make decisions on what dairy products meet the needs of their students, he believes, noting that many probably would choose 2% or whole milk, but other communities may opt for 1%. “I wish we had looser rules that would allow more local choice,” he concluded.
The panel also addressed that some children prefer to consume their dairy as yogurt or cheese over fluid milk. “It goes back to preference and choice, but we’re looking at building a wide basis of preference for milk, yogurt, and cheese,” reminded Anderson-Wise. “They all give you a great powerhouse of nutrients. Something is better than nothing.”
“All of those combinations can get you up to the level of calcium that you need,” recommended Greer.
An ongoing series of events
DairyLivestream will air twice each month for the remainder of this year. The next broadcast will be on Tuesday, September 1 at 11 a.m. CST. Each episode is designed for panelists to answer over 30 minutes of audience questions. If you haven’t joined a DairyLivestream broadcast yet, register here. Registering once registers you for all future events.