Flavored Milk – Love it or Leave it?

A hot topic in recent years, due to the childhood obesity epidemic, flavored milk (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry). Is the additional sugar less of a concern than the lack of calcium intake? Read on to udderstand this controversy.

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Flavored milk is loaded with cavity-causing sugar, and additional empty calories our kids don’t need; whereby, masking the taste of plain milk, causing kids to yearn for more. What could be good about this sticky situation? Actually, there is some good.

Many times, kids don’t like the taste of white milk, thus they fit into the category of “milk skippers.” However, when it is flavored, milk becomes more appealing, thus, intake may increase.  As compared to juice and soda, which are complete nutritional skeletons, lacking any benefit aside from perhaps a little vitamin C; flavored milk is full of protein, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, phosphorus, and potassium, among other nutrients. Calcium requirements reach the peak during the teenage years (~1300 mg for both boys and girls); without milk, or non-dairy alternative such as almond beverage, calcium intake suffers, thus, so do kid’s bones.

Sugar, sugar, sugar! On average, one 8 oz single-serve box of flavored milk contains about 22 grams of sugar, with approximately 14 of those grams coming from natural (lactose) sugar. That is an additional 2 tsp sugar per 8 oz serving. Doesn’t sound like much actually, but compounded with other sugars from soda, candy, or even added sugars in foods, such as yogurt or cereal, it all adds up. Considering the obesity rates in our country, any added sugar we can eliminate from our kid’s diets will only improve the health of our youth.

Flavored milk tips from FEED:
– If your child is a milk skipper, offer flavored milk to increase calcium intake; most school-aged children need about 3-4 servings of calcium-rich foods/day. Learn more about calcium requirements for your kids.
– Try to “dilute” the sugar in the pre-packaged flavored milk by mixing it with plain milk, decreasing the total sugar content OR instead of purchasing flavored milk, add your own flavored syrup, in order to control the amount of added sugar.
– For children that are milk drinkers, offer flavored milk as a treat. Rather than cookies or ice cream, offer chocolate milk or hot chocolate as a calcium-filled sweet.

BOTTOM LINE: A balanced diet includes a variety of foods, including low-fat dairy. It is important to look at the big picture when deciding whether to choose flavored milk. Does your child eat a lot of additional sweets and snacks or is this infrequent?  Remember to keep your children mooving in the right direction, when making milk choices.

Lara Field MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Specialist in Pediatrics with over a decade of clinical and client experience. When she’s not actively working to keep her clients healthy, she’s a busy mother of two active boys and loves testing new recipes in her kitchen. Follow her on Instagram to see her recipe ideas, product suggestions, and see how she manages a healthy lifestyle @larafield.