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Flavored Milk is a Nutritious Choice for School Meals

By: Kristal Shelden, MPH, RDN

  • Monday, April 3, 2023
  • 2 Minute Read   


Child nutrition programs play an important role in improving nutrition security, supporting children’s health and their ability to learn. Nutrition security goes beyond people having enough to eat and ensures that the foods people can access provide a range of essential nutrients. Research suggests that eating nutrient-dense foods that are readily available in school meal programs—like fruits, vegetables and dairy products—is connected with improved academic and health outcomes among children and adolescents.1  

Milk is a required and vital part of school meals because it is nutrient-dense, affordable, easy to consume and highly palatable, helping children and adolescents meet their daily nutrient needs. However, many students are not consuming the recommended number of daily servings of dairy. Continuing to offer choices and reduce barriers to access while also considering diet quality helps encourage consumption of milk and dairy foods in child nutrition programs.

Offering flavored milk in school and home settings can increase overall milk consumption among children and adolescents, helping meet intake recommendations.2 Here are a few examples of research that reinforce the nutritional contributions of flavored milk in children’s eating patterns and the overall positive impact on diet quality:

  • Chocolate MilkA large study of school aged children and adolescents found that those who drank flavored milk consumed one extra serving of their recommended daily dairy servings compared to non-flavored milk drinkers, which contributed to higher intakes of calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins A, D, B12 and riboflavin (B2).3   
  • Studies also show that children who drink flavored milk tend to have lower intake of soft drinks and fruit juice and have higher intake of protein, calcium and essential amino acids as compared with non-consumers of milk.4  

The California dairy community has been proactive in reformulating flavored milk in schools over the years to significantly reduce added sugars in children’s diets while still providing a nutrient-dense beverage that is enjoyable. Flavored milk offered in California schools has been reformulated to reduce added sugars to within 7 to 9 grams, per reports from California school milk processors. Overall, flavored milk contributes only 4% of total added sugars in children’s diets5 but provides 13 essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium—nutrients that are underconsumed by most school-aged children.

Flavored milk is a popular choice in schools and, when served as a part of school meal programs, reduces the amount of milk waste.6 There are several examples of schools that have seen a reduction in milk consumption and an increase in food waste when flavored milk is removed as an option. 

“It is a common misconception among parents and wellness partners that the chocolate milk served in school meal programs is the same product sold in grocery stores with a high sugar content. Most don’t know that years ago California’s dairy processors have worked hard to reformulate their chocolate milk to have only 1-2 teaspoons of added sugar. This small amount of added sugar fits within nutritional guidelines for students and encourages consumption of a nutrient dense food when they otherwise might not get a serving of milk at home if they are nutrition insecure. My son eats school lunch and I love that he takes a chocolate milk at lunchtime because it gives him an additional dairy serving during his day when he would most likely take juice if chocolate milk wasn’t an option.” – Heather Berkoben, Dairy Council of CA Community Nutrition Adviser and Parent

Offering flavored milk alongside other dairy foods contributes to nutrition security by providing nutrient-rich choices that are accessible, affordable, easy to consume and appealing to children. It is an important step to ensure nutritious foods fill students’ stomachs instead of trash cans, a win-win for both health and the planet. 

Want to learn or do more? Read our comments to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service regarding Child Nutrition Programs: Revisions to Meal Patterns Consistent with the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You can also submit your own public comments to ensure students have access to nutritious dairy foods in school meals. Go to https://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for submitting comments now through May 10, 2023.

 Join us in our efforts to achieve nutrition security and make healthy, wholesome foods accessible to all by engaging in the Let’s Eat Healthy Initiative. Visit HealthyEating.org/Join to learn more.


1. Bradley BJ, Greene AC. Do health and education agencies in the United States share responsibility for academic achievement and health? A review of 25 years of evidence about the relationship of adolescents’ academic achievement and health behaviors. J Adolesc Health. 2013;52(5):523-532. DOI:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2013.01.008
2. Patel AI et al. The association of flavored milk consumption with milk and energy intake, and obesity: a systematic review. Preventative Medicine, 2018; 111:151-162. DOI:10.1016/j.ypmed.2018.02.03.
3. Nicklas TA, Saab R, Fulgoni VL III. Is flavored milk really a bad beverage choice? The nutritional benefits of flavored milk outweigh the added sugars content. ACTA Scientific Nutritional Health. 2022;6(1):114-132.
4. Sipple LR, Barbano DM, Drake M. Invited review: Maintaining and growing fluid milk consumption by children in school lunch programs in the United States. J Dairy Sci. 2020;103(9):P7639-7654. DOI: 10.3168/jds.2020-18216
5. Cifelli CJ, Houchins JA, Demmer E, Fulgoni V. The relationship between flavored milk consumption, diet quality, body weight, and BMI z-score among children and adolescents of different ethnicities. FASEB J. 2016;30(S1):1154.12. DOI:10.1096/fasebj.30.1_supplement.1154.12
6. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support. School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study, Final Report Volume 4:      Student Participation, Satisfaction, Plate Waste, and Dietary Intakes. Published April 23, 2019. Accessed March 16, 2023.

Kristal Shelden, MPH, RDN

Kristal Shelden, MPH, RDN

Kristal Shelden is Dairy Council of CA’s advocacy manager, driving the organization’s thought leadership strategies and communications.

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