Illustration of three different kinds of milk: Chocolate, regular, and strawberry

Should Schools Serve Flavored Milk?

Courtesy of family


Fourth-grader Esteban Perez was tired of the drink choices at Anderson Elementary School in Anderson, Missouri.

“We only had chocolate milk and white milk, and I started getting bored,” Esteban explains.

He wanted another option: strawberry milk. His school used to serve strawberry milk, and Esteban started a petition asking the school to bring it back. He got other students to sign the petition. Then they presented it to their principal. Much to Esteban’s surprise, his principal agreed! Strawberry milk is now offered not only at Anderson Elementary, but also at 17 other schools in the district.

While Anderson Elementary serves three varieties of milk, other schools serve only plain milk or water. Many nutrition experts argue that chocolate and strawberry milk are not healthy lunchtime choices.

But others point out that even flavored milk contains many of the nutrients that kids need. And if students like only flavored milk, they say, that’s better than no milk at all.

Should all schools have chocolate and strawberry milk on the menu?

sean callahan/Alamy Stock Photo

Supporters of flavored milk point out that all milk has health benefits. It contains nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and potassium. These boost the immune system, build strong bones, and more.

Some people worry that kids won’t get these nutrients if they don’t like the taste of plain milk. A study by the Journal of Dairy Science showed that the amount of milk kids drink has been decreasing for decades. Those in favor of flavored milk argue that it gets more kids to drink milk.

In some schools, banning flavored milk created a new problem: food waste. In 2011, public schools in Los Angeles, California, stopped serving chocolate milk. About 236 gallons of plain milk went to waste every week. That waste was reduced by 75 percent after the district brought back chocolate milk in 2016.

Sarah Messley is the principal at Anderson Elementary. She’s also noticed a difference.

“We rarely have any strawberry milk or chocolate milk left over,” says Messley. “A lot less milk gets thrown away on days when strawberry milk is available.”

On average, more than 37 cartons of milk per student are wasted at elementary schools each year.

Source: World Wildlife Fund

JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Many schools don’t serve flavored milk because it’s not considered a healthy option for kids. For one, many varieties contain unhealthy chemicals like artificial colors and flavors.

Plus, flavored milk has nearly twice the amount of sugar as plain milk. Most of that is added sugar. An 8-ounce carton of chocolate milk contains 4 teaspoons of added sugar. The American Heart Association say kids should have no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar in an entire day. Eating too much sugar can lead to health problems, such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

Some experts say it’s OK to drink flavored milk once in a while. But they point out that drinking too much of it could lead kids to crave even more sweet treats.

“The more sugar you give your body, the more sugar your body is going to ask for,” says nutritionist Sandra J. Arévalo.

Experts say kids who don’t like plain milk should drink water and can get nutrients from healthy foods like fruits and veggies.

80% of school districts in the U.S. serve flavored milk in their cafeterias

Source: School Nutrition Association

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