Thursday, March 16, 2023

'Leave the chocolate milk out of it:' Parents, teachers, cooks and students angry at USDA over school-meal proposal

Photo by Tony Cenicola, The New York Times
Sometimes people draw a line in the sand and say, "You can't do that." That sentiment seems to be true in the case of school meals and chocolate milk. "The anger was prompted by a February proposal from the Department of Agriculture aimed at making school meals healthier by limiting the amount of added sugar and sodium in breakfasts and lunches," reports Nicholas Florko of Stat, the medicine-and-science publication of The Boston Globe. "Most chocolate milks have about 20 grams of sugar per carton. . . . The American Heart Association recommends kids consume 25 grams of added sugar. . . . 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."

Michelle Wickstrom, a teacher from Green River, Wyoming, told Florko, "Leave the chocolate milk out of this." Florko writes, "No element of the February proposal has generated more vitriol than a suggestion that the agency might stop reimbursing schools for chocolate milk. . . . It’s 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."

Florko adds, "The long simmering spat over school meals has also spotlighted the structural weaknesses of the national meal program. While peer-reviewed research has shown that school lunches are now healthier than ever, school officials say they’re still struggling with those standards." An anonymous commenter told Florko, “Our school district’s nutrition department relies on retirees to fill our low paid — short shifted — positions because no one else wants them.  . . .You are going to make these standards so strict that schools will be forced to make scratch foods to meet sodium levels. These school nutrition employees need to be paid better so we can hire staff that has the experience and is trained.”

Dariush Mozaffarian, policy dean at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science at Boston's Tufts University, told Florko, "All of the same concerns and hysteria arose around the 2010 legislation. School staff said this was impossible, industry said this can’t happen. . . . and people said kids won’t eat the food." Florko reports, "Mozaffarian, who supports the overarching changes to the school lunch program, suggested the milk dispute could be solved by cutting the sugar in chocolate milk in half, or offering children plain whole milk instead of the low fat options."

In the ongoing chocolate milk debate, kids also weighed in: "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.” Another fourth-grader, Delila, wrote, "Kids are getting dehydrated. Everyone I know likes chocolate milk. This is why chocolate milk should stay!”

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