Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Food Revolution Fail

I don't know where else to vent.  My school district has been discussing the flavored milk issue of late.  It might be because I brought it up at a parent teacher meeting.  I expressed my concern for the extra sugar the kids get in their milk since they are offered flavor.  The principal and the school board member sitting in on the meeting said they'd look into it.
They did. At the following parent teacher meeting, the principal brought the three milks they offer: fat-free, 1% and fat-free chocolate, so that we could look at the labels.  The fat free had 80 calories.  The 1% had some fat and 100 calories.  The fat-free chocolate had 130 calories, no fat, but the second ingredient, after milk, was high fructose corn syrup.  Cocoa was such a small amount that it was listed as less than 1% of the total ingredients.

The principal explained that a committee was convened with our food service director, a nutrition director from the local hospital, and one of the elementary school principals to make a recommendation to the superintendent.  They said they looked at the research.  Their recommendation was to eliminate chocolate milk from the breakfast menu, but still offer it for the milk break and lunches as a choice.  Their biggest reason for keeping the choice was that if they limited it too much, they were afraid the milk consumption would go down.  Their argument was that it was better for the kids to get all the nutrition of milk with the extra sugar than to not get it at all because they wouldn't drink white milk.

On-line, I've found the National Dairy Council supporting putting flavored milk in schools.  The same reasons were brought up as were listed by the committee that made the recommendation to the principal.  MilkDelivers.org also lists a study about how the consumption drops dramatically if flavored milk is removed and goes on to argue that more calories and fat, half again as much sugar, and more dollars must go into the food then served to make up the difference in the nutrients lost.  If these organizations have research and papers supporting it, how can one make an argument against it.

So these things are only upsetting a little.  What was more upsetting was the parents at the meeting, whose children are in the same school as mine are, who were so very against removing flavored milk from the school entirely.  They came prepared with stacks of research and surveys.  One mother said her doctor told her that her child could drink chocolate milk because he wasn't going to drink white milk at all and he needed the nutrients.  She was all ready to get a doctor's excuse to bring in chocolate milk if it was banned entirely.  She also said she checked with the dentist and that the dentist said it wasn't the cause of cavities.

I cited the Princeton study out a year ago that rats fed virtually the same diet and the exact same calories, except one group drank sugar water and the other drank HFCS water and they found the HFCS rat group gained more weight and showed more tendencies to obese diseases.  To that she said, what's a little HFCS in one drink?  I said, well it's all cumulative, isn't it?  It's not just in these drinks, but in so much else.  Then another mother pulled out a poll she had done at the school.  This was the most disturbing to me.  She was using it to argue for chocolate milk, because if they didn't have it, she was arguing they wouldn't drink any.

This survey showed that out of 289 students who chose to take milk at milk break, 227 chose chocolate milk, and 62 chose white milk.  That's 227 students who chose a milk that had 50 extra calories and 12 more grams of sugar which were all HFCS.  That does not count lunch choices.  And teachers stated opinions like, "My personal opinion...if they will drink it, what difference does it make if it is chocolate?"  "Most kids like chocolate and get a good source of calcium and vitamin D from it.  I would rather the children get chocolate milk and the good that it provides rather than juice. ... I was a kid who didn't like white milk and would not have drank milk in school if chocolate wasn't offered.  Overall I think chocolate milk does more good than harm."

Another parent stated that it allowed the kids choices and that the kids had to start to learn to make good choices, just like when they are offered alcohol, they have to decide in that moment that alcohol is bad.  If our children make the choice for alcohol like they do for chocolate milk, we are doomed.  My children, even though we discuss at home better food choices and enjoying making and eating our food, still choose chocolate milk.  We have discussed high fructose corn syrup and the rat study and they still choose chocolate milk even though they know it is in there.

I am not a perfect parent.  I give in to McDonald's and ice cream and all sorts of things.  But I have come to realize this is about their future and conditioning my children to like the healthy choices.  If you have sugar sabotaging us all the time, at every corner, and parents who still think, well a little HFCS here and there can't be all bad, it will accumulate and our children will be left with an even worse health care mess.  I feel I have no back up in this community.  The issue even came up at a party.  One parent could see both sides, especially since he had a kid who wouldn't drink milk unless it was chocolate, but he agreed that we had too much sugar drinks as it was and it might be a good change for the school.  But people waver when it might mean their children will not get the calcium they need.

My question is, since when did chocolate milk become so ubiquitous?  It was a treat at my house when I was a kid.  We maybe had it once a week with school lunches, but I honestly don't remember.  But I don't remember thinking I could have chocolate milk ever on a regular basis.  Where between the late 1970s and now did it permeate our lives and schools?  I suppose it is just like soda.  It got cheaper to make and buy, we all like sugary stuff and we went overboard.  Now, compared to soda, chocolate milk is a "godsend" for those kids that "hate the white stuff" and won't eat anything else calcium related.  I am so sad that our attitudes about food have become so warped.  What about soy milk, or plain old water?

So I guess I will watch out for my own kids.  Some parents suggested I tell my kids' teachers to watch them and make sure they only take white milk.  But honestly, should I make the teachers work that much harder just to make sure my kids are not taking chocolate milk?  They have so much work as it is.

I thought asking about flavored milks and seeing if they could be really limited or eliminated would be an easier way to start the Food Revolution in our community, but it seems that if this is the reaction to the whole thing, the Food Revolution will have a very long row to hoe in these United States of America.


Aliceson said...

How disappointing! I remember when I was in elementary school, we were allowed chocolate milk on Fridays only, as a treat. The only place we ever had chocolate milk was at school on Fridays and dinner at home was always 2%.

Now as a parent, we keep whole milk in the house for the kids at their pediatrician's suggestion, plus I like it better for cooking, etc. At school, the kids are given a choice between skim, 1% and 2%, all of which the kids find 'watery' and of course chocolate, which is just as watery but filled with brown syrupy sludge. In fact, Mae had never had choc. milk before she entered 4k and was so excited to be able to choose it everyday. Once we caught wind of that, we had a talk about healthy choices and insisted she at least alternate everyday between chocolate and white. At what point are parents going to stand up for their kids and demand that schools stop feeding them, or least stop offering unhealthy choices?

My boss at the farm has the radio on all the time (AM620, gag!) and was mentioning to me something she heard about one school district not allowing the children to have sugary snacks in school. She couldn't believe that the school district was going to tell those kids what they could and couldn't eat. I said, Mae's teacher does that now, she won't allow unhealthy snacks in her classroom and I think that's great. Her response to me was, "well, you know their just going to go home and get the cookies and sweets there" I fired back with, "You don't think they already do?" Basically, it starts at home and if these parents who showed up at the meeting are so dead set on having chocolate milk because of their interpretation that a little bit of nutrition riddled with HFCS and calories is better than nothing, sadly the school will allow it.

Still shocking to me that 227 of 289 students chose chocolate milk. Shocking!

Aliceson said...

Ugh, I just left a big long comment about this and when I hit 'publish' Google gave me an error screen and told me my comment was too big. Grrrrr.

unmitigated me said...

God forbid their precious babies should only have white milk or water to choose from. That said, it's only 8 oz., and relieves you from ever providing it as a treat at home, right?

Wild Child said...

I don't mind offering chocolate milk as a treat. BUT, if each and every child there chooses chocolate milk for both times everyday, that's 100 extra calories a day of plain old HCFS sugar (an extra 24g a day). Multiply by 5 days and you have 500 extra calories. Multiply by 39 weeks of school and you now have 19,500 extra calories in a year. If I'm allowed to offer chocolate milk at home, at least I can keep the treat time to once a week or less. Why can't the parents whose kids only drink chocolate milk give it to them at HOME then? Let them drink water during the day? Or, better yet, be exposed to only white milk that they eventually start to drink it? Heaven help me when my son hits middle school.