Abit of chocolate or strawberry flavor in milk makes all the difference in child appeal, but the extra calories from sugar may force parents to think twice about serving it.
Penny Holt, food service director for Paducah Public Schools, said chocolate milk has 2 teaspoons more sugar than white milk. The district serves non-fat chocolate and strawberry milk in lunch lines with 1 percent and skim milk.
“We serve quite a bit more chocolate milk than white milk,” Holt said. “At breakfast, kids take white milk to put in their cereal.”
Holt said the district serves flavored milk because of the greater appeal to students. She said the extra calories are negligible when the milk provides nine essential nutrients like vitamin D, calcium and protein. The district also serves bottled water, juice and beverages with 10 percent or less sugar. At school, milk is available in chocolate, strawberry and occasionally orange, though nutritional content does not change. Other flavors of milk offered commercially have similar nutritional content.
“The added flavor does not take away from the nutrition,” Holt said.
Tracy Noerper, nutrition communications program manager for the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, said milk — flavored or not — is a good source of phosphorous and vitamin A.
“As a mom, I monitor what my kids have,” Noerper said. “I try make sure they don’t have too much sugar. Flavored milk is not where all the sugar comes from. They get more from soda, sports drinks and fruit drinks. It’s where 46 percent of their sugars come from. Candy, sweetened cereal, desserts and doughnuts provide sugar, too.”
Noerper said children should drink whole milk until age 2, then transition to lower fat or skim milk. She recommends three or four servings of dairy products per day, including cheese, yogurt and milk. Dairy products contain a naturally occurring sugar called lactose, and people reading the nutrition label may see sugar listed in a dairy product with no added sugar.
“I encourage parents to serve unsweetened milk, especially in a child’s early years,” Noerper said. “This is important as palates form, and children develop habits they stick with for life. Once in a while, flavored milk is a nice treat. It’s up to parents to decide, but white milk is usually good until children are older and can make their own choices about nutrition.”
Dr. Natalie Hodge, a Paducah pediatrician, said the average child does not need sugar from high fructose corn syrup. A highly active child may be able to metabolize the extra sugar, but children with a less-active lifestyle may see the extra calories add up.
“Eighty calories is not much in a day, but for weeks and months or if at school, nine months out of the year, that’s a lot of extra calories to consume,” Hodge said. “It can be a major contributor to obesity.”
Hodge said picky children may reject white milk in favor of flavored milk, but parents dictate what children eat or drink. Given a choice of white or flavored milk, a child may prefer flavored, though if given no choice, Hodge said the child will drink white milk.
“Preschool is the time where children develop their preferences, and can be trained to drink white milk the same way they are trained to eat vegetables. Any kid who is given milk with some Hershey’s Syrup is going to want chocolate milk the next day.”
For parents who chose to serve non-dairy milk, Hodge advises caution. Products like almond, rice and soy milk may lack vitamin D and calcium. Hodge advised looking for a vitamin D enriched non-dairy product to avoid rickets, a degenerative bone condition stemming from a lack of vitamin D. She added many of these products may not offer enough protein for a growing child.
Noerper said some non-dairy products that are vitamin enriched may see the vitamins settle from the solution and still not offer children the nutrition found in white skim milk.
Contact Alan Reed, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8658.