Two weeks ago on ABC Prime Time Tuesday, celebrity chef and food critic Jamie Oliver ran into a lot of resistance when he took his “Food Revolution” TV show to the Los Angeles Unified School District where he criticized the serving of sugar-sweetened chocolate milk to students.

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Two weeks ago on ABC Prime Time Tuesday, celebrity chef and food critic Jamie Oliver ran into a lot of resistance when he took his “Food Revolution” TV show to the Los Angeles Unified School District where he criticized the serving of sugar-sweetened chocolate milk to students. To make his healthy food message more visual, Oliver had a big yellow school bus filled with the amount of sugar (but it was actually sand) added to the total amount of milk served to L.A. students (the second largest in the States, serving between 700,000 and 750,000) in one week.

Without a doubt, his presentation was dramatic.

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Oliver’s attack on flavored milk has got the nation talking. Some folks are going on pure emotion and others on the facts.

Registered Dietician Rachel Johnson, senior nutrition advisor for EatingWell Magazine, tries to make sense of the madness by writing that his battle against chocolate milk might be the wrong one when it comes to addressing the childhood obesity epidemic.

“As a child nutrition expert, I am the first person to step up and applaud anyone trying to make a dent in our national childhood obesity crisis. After all, we may be looking at the first generation of American children who won’t live as long as their parents because of obesity-related diseases,” she wrote on April 15. “But I’ve conducted research on U.S. children’s beverage consumption patterns for more than a decade and Oliver’s focus on chocolate milk worries me.

“I’ve had a lot of experience feeding children, both my own and as part of my research. I know that banning chocolate milk in schools means kids will drink less milk overall and miss out on essential nutrients. I also fear that with too many school restrictions, we’ll end up with kids abandoning the well-balanced school meal altogether and heading straight to the corner store or fast-food restaurant for fries and a soft drink. I think we’ll get a lot further working together with school-nutrition professionals to offer children meals that include nutritious, low-fat, lower-added-sugar, lower-calorie, good-tasting foods and beverages that they accept and enjoy.”  

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Thank you Ms. Johnson! We in the dairy industry know what she writes is true. We also know that regardless, parental backlash will continue, and schools want to respond. Some have eliminated flavored milk from their lunch program. Some eliminated it and brought it back, because they observed that kids would not drink their white milk. Still others are thinking about not having it return come fall 2011.

Many dairy processors are responding by offering lower-sugar flavored milks. This is a step in the right direction. As a parent, I have always emphasized reduced sugar consumption for my children, in particular because type 1 diabetes runs in the family. I am not opposed to non-nutritive “alternative” sweeteners, but I know that schools will not allow them...yet.

Alternative sweetener use may not be an option in school milk, but it is for retail products targeted to kids. Check out some of the new products featured this month.

In addition to the alternative sweeteners currently being used, including acesulfame potassium, agave, aspartame, honey, stevia and sucralose, here’s another new option. It’s call monk fruit, or can go by its Chinese name: luo han guo. FDA recognized it as GRAS in 2010.

Monk fruit has been used for its sweet taste and healthy qualities for hundreds of years. The small, vine-grown, subtropical fruit grown indigenous to Southeast Asia is packed with antioxidants and vitamins. The calorie-free sweetness of monk fruit is derived from unique natural antioxidants in the fruit called mogrosides. This one might even get Oliver’s approval!


HOLD THE PRESSES:  On Tuesday, April 26, Jamie Oliver scored when L.A. schools Superintendant John Deasy announced that starting next fall, LAUSD will no longer offer chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk. Deasy made the proposal during an appearance Tuesday night with Oliver on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Read it here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/04/la-unified-gives-up-chocolate-milk-in-school-cafeterias.html?ref

However, again, many parents believe flavored milk is an easy item to target, yet probably the least significant of issues for a school foodservice planner. Read this thoughtful essay on the topic, followed by parent comments here:
http://www.thelunchtray.com/my-problem-with-jamie-olivers-war-on-flavored-milk/