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I used to love chocolate milk. During the elementary school afternoon milk break (do they still do that?), I always opted to grab a chocolate milk instead of white milk carton from the crate. I think it’s because we didn’t drink a lot of chocolate milk at home.

Let’s face it: Chocolate milk is cooler than white milk. It’s, well, it’s chocolatey. And it’s that yummy taste that draws kids to drink more of it than white milk.

But students in the Los Angeles Unified School District won’t have that option anymore, thanks to a vote by the school board on a new five-year, $100 million dairy contract that doesn’t include chocolate and strawberry milk, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The school district is the reportedly the second largest district in the U.S., and serves 650,000 meals a day at 1,000 sites.

The goal — which is laudable — is to offer healthier food choices to students. The result of this action, however, may work against that effort. If kids just simply don’t like the taste of plain milk, they’ll drink less milk, period. And miss out on vital nutrients, like calcium, at a time when their growing bodies need it most.

An 8-ounce serving of milk, flavored or unflavored, provides 30 percent of the Recommended Daily Value for calcium and 25 percent of vitamin D. That nutrition will be hard to make up.

“When flavored milk was not an option, many children wouldn’t take the white milk, or, if they did, they wouldn’t drink it,” said Linda Stoll, executive director of food services at Jeffco Public Schools in Jefferson County, Colo., who participated in a school nutrition survey conducted by the Milk Processor Education Program.

The survey, conducted at 58 elementary and secondary schools across the U.S., found on days when only white milk was offered in cafeterias, milk consumption dropped an average of 35 percent.

The only L.A. board member who made any sense, and voted against the contract, was Tamar Galatzan, who told the Times, “I think we are demonizing milk.”

When this news came out this week, I remembered another news item I had seen earlier this month. I was reeled in by the curious headline: “Victorian disease making a comeback.” What disease, I wondered, so I had to read on. Turns out it’s rickets.

Rickets?! Isn’t that just for pirates, like scurvy or something? Well, it’s a crippling disease that softens bones when a body doesn’t get enough vitamin D.

There’s been an increase in rickets in children within the last 10 years or so. And experts think it’s because of poor diets — not drinking enough vitamin D-fortified milk — and kids being glued to the tube or the computer screen, and not getting vitamin D from nature’s sunshine.

A 2009 study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (heck, yeah, I’d believe anything from an institution with that name!) found 70 percent — 70 percent! — are low in vitamin D. But, hey, let’s go ahead and take away chocolate milk in school to make kids healthier.

Responding to the L.A. school milk decision, California dairyman Dino Giacomazzi, a school board member himself (just not in L.A.) reminds decision-makers that chocolate milk might be “the most nutritious food they [students] consume all day.”

“It’s sad,” he continues, “but true.”

I think we can agree, chocolate milk has more sugar, perhaps as much as 4 teaspoons of added sugar, and that, long-term and in large amounts, is not a good thing. Maybe it’s time for the dairy industry to kick it into gear and develop flavored milk with less sugar.

But until then, there will be more cases of the food police deciding our food choices, and children will never learn the valuable lesson of healthy eating on their own.

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.
Susan Crowell
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