Got milk? Not chocolate, as USDA considers banning flavored milk options in school cafeterias

Got milk? Not chocolate, as USDA considers banning flavored milk options in school cafeterias
The USDA is considering banning all flavored milk, including chocolate, in school cafeteriasPhoto by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images
  • The USDA is seeking to curb salt and sugar intake for school lunches across the US.
  • Flavored milk, like chocolate milk, could be limited to high schoolers under the new guidelines.

Chocolate milk has been the unsung hero of picky eaters' school lunches for decades, but it may soon be gone from cafeterias — and people aren't happy about it.

The United States Department of Agriculture has proposed updates to school nutrition standards focused on curbing salt and sugar intake. One proposal would ban flavored milks — like chocolate and strawberry milk — in elementary and middle school cafeterias in an effort to cut the amount of added sugars consumed by children.

A second proposed rule change would allow allow flavored milk for all grade levels, but the added-sugar levels would be limited.

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Current standards allow fat-free or low-fat (1%) flavored milk to be offered as an option to all students.

Proposed in February, the USDA welcomed public discussion on its proposals. Ot turns out that the public has passionate opinions: Over 90,000 comments have been submitted on the proposed changes.


"I feel very strongly that flavored milk should continue to be offered in all grades k-12. 90% of the students in my school take the 1% chocolate milk," one commenter wrote. "Students will just stop drinking milk."

"As a school nutrition professional and industry representative, I know that when flavored milk is unavailable, students drink less milk and miss out on milk's 13 essential nutrients," wrote another. "Please do NOT take away flavored milk. We can not afford to see the participation go down."

Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, which represents 18 of the largest school districts in the country, questioned the new guidelines, pointing out the "nine essential nutrients," in chocolate milk to The Wall Street Journal.

In response to the proposal, a group of 37 milk processors accounting for 90% of the milk at US schools announced that they would commit to offering flavored milk that adheres to the USDA's limits on added sugar in the dairy product.

Other comments showcased support for the proposed changes.


A number of them followed a basic template: "I am writing to voice my support for the USDA's proposal to strengthen nutrition standards for school meals," the comments read. "School breakfasts are far too sugary, and I applaud the USDA's proposed cap of no more than 10 percent of calories from added sugars, which mirrors the Dietary Guidelines recommendation."

"From a public-health perspective, it makes a lot of sense to try to limit the servings of these flavored milks because they do have quite a lot of added sugar," Erica Lauren Kenney, a public health and nutrition professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Journal.

The USDA did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

While the guidelines are not set in stone, the USDA, which is responsible for school lunches at nearly 100,000 schools, is now in the process of working through feedback in order to implement the new standards over a multi-year period, beginning in the fall of 2024.

A 2021 study from the journal Nutrients and available on the National Library of Medicine, points to flavored milk as being a leading source of added sugar in school breakfast and lunch. Chocolate milk has been banned in San Francisco for elementary and middle schoolers since 2017.


Correction: May 16, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misstated which organization published a study regarding added sugar. It was the journal Nutrients, not the National Library of Medicine.