Milk at lunch: a black or white issue?

It’s been quite a week in food health research, and it’s only Wednesday! In school lunch news, the New York Times reported that bans on soda in middle school have made virtually no difference in reducing sugary-drink consumption among those students during school hours.

“The study, which looked at thousands of public school students across 40 states, found that removing soda from cafeterias and school vending machines only prompted students to buy sports drinks, sweetened fruit drinks and other sugar-laden beverages instead. In states that banned only soda, students bought and consumed sugary drinks just as frequently at school as their peers in states where there were no bans at all.”

Then, I heard on CNN that a recent study finds fast food purchases increase as consumers rise from lower- to middle-income earners. This finding goes against the conventional wisdom that lower income consumers buy more fast food, contributing significantly to their higher rate of obesity.

“There is a correlation between obesity and lower income, but it cannot be solely attributed to restaurant choice,” Leigh said in a statement. “Fast-food dining is most popular among the middle class, who are less likely to be obese.”

And all of this news is happening during Jamie Oliver’s “Milk Week of Action” challenge, which sets its sights on pressuring schools to take flavored milk off the menu. In light of the news about school soda consumption, I’m wondering how effective this result would be among older children, but I’ve already seen its effectiveness among one sample group: my children.


Image courtesy of Food revolution


My 4 year old will not drink plain milk. As a baby, he couldn’t digest milk, and so we gave him rice milk until he was two years old. But the switch to milk after he outgrew his intolerance didn’t really “take” like I’d hoped. He gets most of calcium from other sources, but he will drink chocolate milk, which I dilute with skim. I generally feel that it’s better than no milk. However.

This week he started at a new preschool which lets kids buy lunch at the adjacent grade-school cafeteria. All last week he bought a school lunch, and at the end of the week he told me “They only let me buy white milk. And I drink it. And I like it a little bit!” So, for him the lack of choice in the milk department has turned his taste buds around.

The Food Revolution site has a number of ideas for influencing/reducing the milk options at the school your children attend. It can be as simple as writing a letter to the principal, or more involved community action. But only, of course, if you believe that your school should offer only pure milk. What do you think is the best method: milk by any means, or reducing the choice to the healthiest one?  Is it a battle worth fighting? Or, do you think kids will end up consuming the same amount of sugary milk even if it’s removed from elementary schools, the way they do in middle schools? Share your thoughts it he comments, below.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Robyn on November 8, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    In some ways it comes down to school funding. Why are there vending machines at all in a middle school? There weren’t when I was a kid – but they are a revenue stream for the school. If there are no vending machines and the cafeteria serves milk and water – that is what many of the kids will drink – just like your son. (can’t remember his pseudonym right now.)


  2. At the risk of further complicating the milk issue, I’d like to offer a suggestion that schools actually allow children to choose water. In my son’s elementary school, chocolate and white milk are the only options with the meal. There is a water fountain in the cafeteria, but no way to obtain a glass and fill it (so his option is one of the milks or nothing during his meal). In my son’s middle school, he can get milk with his meal, but in order to get water, he has to buy a bottle of water.

    While white milk can serve as a healthy part of the meal, it shouldn’t be the only option available to children. Water is an essential part of a child’s day, and (I would guess) in short supply while they are at school. That the schools don’t provide it as an accessible option for lunch is right on par with allowing them to choose the sugary chocolate milk as a healthy option.


  3. Alisa, that is a good point. Our elementary school doesn’t have cups at the cafeteria water fountain either, and the kids don’t usually bring their water bottles to lunch. But, they do drink water from those bottles the rest of the day. Could you take that on as a mission– getting the school to start encouraging and enabling kids to bring their water bottles to lunch.
    Robyn, according to the study the vending machine revenue stream is exactly the reason middle school kids still have access to sugary drinks. Would kids buy 100% juice instead? Maybe not. It’s a tricky problem, but if we leave it to the schools alone to solve it, I don’t think it will resolve in our favor, necessarily.


    • Julie, you’ve brought up another interesting difference not only among schools, but between classes. In my son’s elementary, only some teachers support having a water bottle in class. The vast majority of them do not. Perhaps my mission should be allowing them to have access to water bottles in every class–and at lunch. Thanks for bringing up an excellent talking point. We parents need to examine these issues, and as you said, not leave the resolutions up to the schools alone.


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