Flavored Milk vs Veggies for Calcium

>> Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Like to curl up with a nice cup of hot tea on these cold winter days?  I've got a great Celestial Seasonings tea giveaway on A Life Less Sweet Reviews!  Read about their new green teas and enter to win a box of each of the new teas!

Today I'm pleased to publish a guest post by Jenna Pepper.  Jenna is a recovering picky eater and real food advocate sharing with parents the truth; kids can transform their taste buds.  Whether you have a reluctant eater or a snack fiend on your hands, there is hope.  She is involved in school food reform in Houston, TX Spring Branch ISD.  Jenna is the author of the Eat to Learn program, which is in the first year of implementation at Sherwood Elementary.  Fruit and vegetable consumption at school lunches is up 10% since the program began.  Check out her blog Food with Kid Appeal where she can help you grow good eaters.

Questioning the belief that sugars in flavored milk are a necessary evil to get calcium in kids

Fear that kids won’t get enough calcium if they don’t drink daily milk is pretty common.  Parents would fear this without marketing from the dairy industry because “growing bones” is mission critical for short people.  The dairy industry makes this fear even worse by convincing school districts to serve flavored milk to students, so that kids don’t miss out on the calcium they need.  If that practice wasn’t enough, the milk industry started its Raise Your Hand for Chocolate milk campaign to keep parents believing that flavored milk - with added sugar, usually high fructose corn syrup - is a necessity for a growing child.  They play on a parents fear that their child’s growth will not be optimized unless milk is consumed daily.

Add to that the fact that most school food programs have removed a lot of the real food that contains naturally contains calcium from the menu, replacing it with factory food of little or no nutritional value.  The nutritional value of the factory food is usually in the form of vitamin or mineral enrichment, versus naturally occurring nutrients in whole real food.  In districts where greens are served in the hot lunch line, they are often overcooked unpalatable blobs of green that no child or adult would find appealing. 

Is it accurate?  Are most kids in need of extra calcium?
As Ed Burske reports in an article summarizing the findings by a panel of medical authorities regarding calcium intake among children, most children are not in need of extra calcium as the dairy industry has brain-washed parents into believing.  Chairman of school nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, Dr Walter Willet says that milk is not an essential nutrient.  “We aren’t seeing a lot of children with factures,” he said citing lack of evidence suggesting children’s bone growth is impaired by lack of calcium.

What some parents might not know is that while milk contains more calcium than a serving of calcium containing vegetables, the calcium in some vegetables is more readily absorbed and utilized for bone health than it is from milk or other calcium enhanced products.  That means that a serving of broccoli may do your child as much or more good as the milk.  Last time I checked there is no high fructose corn syrup in broccoli.  The question isn’t "is dairy a good source of calcium for bone health."  The question is calcium from dairy essential?  I’m not convinced.  Animals in nature seem to get enough calcium to support their bone health from their diet, which doesn’t include dairy products past weaning from mother’s milk.  If animals can get enough calcium from leaves, as Annemarie Colbin, author of The Whole Food Guide to Strong Bones suggests, perhaps humans can too.  Exercise too is critical for bone health.  I guess animals get plenty of exercise in their daily quest for food in the wild.  Less so for humans who drive to the store and pick up a week’s worth of groceries in an hour or less.

But Kids Don’t Like Vegetables
Nope.  Not true.  I put this myth to the test in a Houston, TX elementary school.  400 students tasted 9 different vegetables and fruits including calcium containing broccoli and spinach.  And do you know what happened?  4,951 tastes later the punch cards revealed that 82% of students from Pre-Kinder through 5th Grade tasted all 9 items.  Many kids asked for more spinach and broccoli.  25% of students voted a green vegetable as their favorite produce tasted, even when up against orange and pear.

Tasting spinach at a school Taste Off Competition.
I’m not asserting that kids prefer vegetables. Most kids would still pick chocolate milk over broccoli as their favorite.  I’m saying that kids will eat vegetables.  Parents, teachers, school food service professionals listen up.  Kids will eat vegetables. 

Step One:  Serve vegetables in a palatable way - raw on a salad bar. 
Step Two:  Get the sugared-up and packaged stuff off the menu. 
Step Three:  Teach students that vegetables fuel their brain
Step Four:  Watch veggies (and calcium) go down the hatch.

It took me two years to fall in love with kale.  My mistake?  Cooking it.  It is so much better chopped in thin slices added to other greens in a salad. Varieties other than curly kale work best raw in salads.  Don’t believe me? Try leafy greens like kale raw in your next green salad.  See what the kids think. 

Thanks so much, Jenna!  Great information and food for thought.  At my son's school, they offer chocolate milk, 2% plain milk, or a small cup of juice (half the amount of the milk cartons!) for their lunch.  While I wish that they would also provide an easy source of water with their lunches, I've been pleasantly surprised this year that the majority of the kids choose the unflavored milk!  The kids also happily get veggies from the salad bar (the first thing in the food line) and eat them.  Small steps, but important ones!


Anonymous February 2, 2011 at 4:22 PM  

Thanks for this great post. I was very surprised to find out that chocolate milk was available for purchase at our school last November. My son (7), on the other hand, was thrilled! Why not? It´s sugary-sweet & delish. I put veggie juice or smoothies in his lunch box most days and encourage him not to do the choco milk daily. At his former school, water was the only lunch time beverage offered. I´m happy to report my son´s fav veggie is broccoli and he eats it upwards of 4x/wk.

Vennesa February 2, 2011 at 8:51 PM  

I started changing my family's diet about a year ago. I wish I'd done it 10 years ago! My youngest loves all vegetables and fruits except tomatoes. The older ones are taking longer to convince, but I have seen some positive changes lately. This change to our way of eating is permanent, so I'm glad they're coming around. It definitely takes time but it's possible for them to develop a taste for veggies.
Their school also serves chocolate milk every day. Back in the olden days (the 80's) we only got it on special occasions!
Thanks for your blog. I always look forward to reading your posts.

Sagan February 3, 2011 at 10:40 AM  

Great info here! I agree - children will actually make some healthy options if we give them the chance.

jenna February 3, 2011 at 3:45 PM  

cathy - did consumption of unflavored milk increase this year? why do you think that is? was there any education/intervention to cause flavored milk consumption to drop?

we do not have the same data at Sherwood. 80% or more of the students choose chocolate milk. i hope to have hard data choc/white milk consumption at the end of our pilot. during the next 2 weeks, choc milk is off the menu 3x each week to give students a chance to taste/accept white milk. food director assumes participation in school lunches will decrease (kids will opt not to buy lunch).

cathy February 3, 2011 at 5:07 PM  

Jenna - I certainly don't have official data to support my claim, but I've noticed a surprising switch to unflavored milk for the 1st grade class - especially as compared to last year. I eat with my son at school once a week, and he and the kids around him always pick up the unflavored milk over the chocolate as of late. The unflavored crate is always almost empty while the chocolate milk crate still has lots of cartons in it. I have no idea why the change, but I like it!

I still have issues with the school lunch at my son's school, but they're doing some things right. The main dish is typical yucky school lunch fare, though surrounded by nice fresh fruit and vegetables from the salad bar. They also provide fresh fruit to every classroom for a morning snack. Love that! I think that's done a lot to make it ok and the norm to eat fresh fruit.

Sweetpeas February 5, 2011 at 9:43 AM  

People are always amazed that my kids eat healthy foods, and my kids are always annoyed that the "good stuff" isn't on the kids' menus at restaurants LOL. . . I've nominated for the Stylish Blogger Award http://broadhorizonsschool.blogspot.com/2011/02/stylish-blogs.html

Out of the Box Food February 9, 2011 at 12:05 PM  

My children's school offers chocolate milk (complete with high fructose corn syrup)as an included option with the hot lunch, yet water is an additional 75 cents! Can you believe it? I agree too on the Kale, the best way to scare a kid off of Kale is to cook it. Another option to try: Crisp it up in a 350 degree oven with a little olive oil and sea salt...they'll gobble it up! Thanks for the great post!

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Frederick Guyton October 12, 2017 at 1:22 AM  

Fear that kids won’t get enough calcium if they don’t drink daily milk is pretty common.various writers I like milk very much.

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