Chocolate milk can stay in school lunch program, Biden administration decides (2024)


By Alexander Tin

Edited By Allison Elyse Gualtieri

/ CBS News

Elementary school cafeterias will be allowed to continue serving flavored milk such as chocolate and strawberry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday. The Biden administration had initially floated a ban aimed at cutting consumption of added sugars by younger children.

The decision is one of several changes now locked in by the department's Food and Nutrition Service to its sweeping update to requirements that govern school meal programs. First proposed in February 2023, the updates are now set to take effect for the 2025 school year.

"School meals matter. In some cases, in many cases, in far too many cases, it is often the only meal or meals that youngsters may get during the day," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters Tuesday ahead of the announcement.

Vilsack said the department had fielded more than 136,000 comments on their initial proposal, which had been widely hailed by public health experts for creating limits for the first time on added sugars and stepping up targets to reduce sodium.

However, some groups also voiced frustration with the department over some proposals they worried would be difficult to meet.

"With no end in sight to supply chain and labor challenges, most school meal programs nationwide simply lack the capacity to meet these proposed nutrition mandates," the School Nutrition Association said in comments last year on the proposal.

School districts making good-faith efforts to meet the new guidelines next year would not face financial penalties if they fell short, USDA officials pledged, though they disputed claims that most districts would not be able to meet the standards.

Department officials said the cost associated with the changes was "very, very modest compared to the overall size of the program" making up just around 1% of the bill footed by school food service programs over the coming years.

"The expectation and anticipation is, given the transition period that we have built into the rule, that we are going to see compliance. As has been indicated, the industry is already working on providing many of the products that will meet the standards," said Vilsack.

Some comments had also questioned whether some of the department's proposals to crack down on unhealthy ingredients could backfire, encouraging more students to skip eating school lunch or swapping out for far more unhealthy options.

The USDA had proposed limiting flavored milk after an analysis found it was the largest source of added sugars in schools, making up around half in lunches from students drinking options like chocolate or strawberry-flavored milk instead of plain, unflavored versions.

That move would risk discouraging students from drinking milk altogether, some health experts and the dairy industry argued, losing out on its nutritional benefits.

Vilsack said the USDA had worked with the dairy industry and credited milk producers for a pledge to reduce added sugar in school milk products.

In its release, the USDA said milk processors making up more than 90% of the nation's supply to schools had committed to reformulating their products to meet new added sugars limits on flavored milk.

"The challenge, I think, is to make sure that children have access and actually consume the milk. And I think most school nutrition officials would tell you that youngsters certainly gravitate towards the flavored milk option," said Vilsack.

Vilsack suggested some school districts might still elect not to serve chocolate and strawberry milk to come up with menus that fall under the new more stringent federal limits on added sugars overall in meals.

"We thought that it could fit within the decision making that would be made at the local level. Obviously it's a decision that each school district can make," he said.

The final rule also stops short of more ambitious sodium cuts the department had proposed phasing in until 2030, adding up to a 30% reduction in the amount that school lunches would have over the course of a week.

Instead, schools will only "need to slightly reduce" sodium in their breakfasts and lunches by Fall 2027.

"This change still moves our children in the right direction and gives schools and industry the lead time they need to prepare," the department said in its release.

A large reason for the change is Congress, Vilsack said, which intervened with a clause passed during the last budget process to decide this. The final changes will amount to only a 10% reduction in sodium across school breakfast meals and a 15% reduction in sodium across lunch meals.

"It's very consistent with the congressional directive," said Vilsack. "In other words, Congress directed us to do this."

  • Education

Alexander Tin

Alexander Tin is a digital reporter for CBS News based in the Washington, D.C. bureau. He covers the Biden administration's public health agencies, including the federal response to infectious disease outbreaks like COVID-19.

Chocolate milk can stay in school lunch program, Biden administration decides (2024)


What does federal law say about serving dairy milk in schools? ›

What are the current requirements for milk in school meals? Schools may currently offer fat-free and low-fat (1 percent fat) milk, flavored and unflavored, in reimbursable school lunches and breakfasts and for sale as a competitive beverage. Unflavored milk must be offered at each school meal service.

Why should chocolate milk stay in schools? ›

Offering chocolate milk in schools is a great way to encourage kids to drink milk and meet the recommended amounts of nutrients that they need to grow and develop while also giving them options.

Why is milk good for school lunch? ›

Milk is an essential component of the school meal pattern.

Why? It provides students with nine essential nutrients for their bodies and brains. Milk is also a great source of high-quality protein, helping students stay fuller longer.

Why did schools take out strawberry milk? ›

The proposal by Superintendent John Deasy came after popular British TV chef Jamie Oliver criticized the district in recent months for serving flavored milks, saying they contain the sugar equivalent of a candy bar.

Why might the USDA ban chocolate milk? ›

The USDA had proposed limiting flavored milk after an analysis found it was the largest source of added sugars in schools, making up around half in lunches from students drinking options like chocolate or strawberry-flavored milk instead of plain, unflavored versions.

Did the Whole Milk for Healthy kids Act pass? ›

Passed House (12/13/2023)

Is chocolate milk healthy or unhealthy? ›

Chocolate milk provides important nutrients — such as calcium, protein, and vitamin D — which may benefit health. However, it's high in calories and added sugar, which can contribute to weight gain and may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases. Chocolate milk intake should be closely monitored in children.

When was chocolate milk banned in schools? ›

After a five-year drought, chocolate and strawberry milk are making their way back into public school lunchrooms in Los Angeles. With a vote of 6 to 1, the Los Angeles Unified School District Tuesday loosened a district-wide ban on sugary, flavored milk that took effect in 2011.

Is chocolate milk healthier than soda? ›

As critics often point out, it contains nearly as much sugar as soda: 1 cup of low-fat chocolate milk has 25 grams of sugar, whereas the same amount of Coca-Cola has 26 grams. But, for chocolate milk, only about half of those sugars are added sugars, the ones people generally need to be concerned about.

Why can't schools serve whole milk? ›

Since 2012, whole and reduced-fat (2 percent) milk have not been permitted in school meals, which is consistent with the DGA recommendation to choose or switch to fat-free or low-fat milk to limit saturated fat consumption.

Why do schools give kids milk instead of water? ›

And, according to those in the dairy industry, milk is prioritized over water in cafeterias to help school kids meet their daily nutritional needs for calcium and vitamin D, among 13 other essential nutrients.

How much milk is wasted at school? ›

More than 45 million gallons of milk are thrown away annually, wasting more than $300 million in taxpayer money each year. Children who suffer from lactose intolerance, which disproportionately impacts children of color, receive meals that fail their minds and bodies, harming them academically and physically.

What would happen if schools stopped serving chocolate milk? ›

The district's food service management company shared two months of lunchroom data with researchers at Cornell University, who crunched the numbers and arrived at an alarming conclusion: when chocolate milk was taken away from students, not only did milk sales go down but lunch sales did too.

Is milk 2 go strawberry not pink? ›

Our strawberry milk is now free. from artificial colours and flavours! 🍓🥛And yes, our. strawberry milk is now white, and still tastes great!

Why should flavored milk be banned from schools? ›

People in favor of banning flavored milk in school say the added sugars contribute to childhood obesity and condition kids to desire for overly sweet drinks. Others (including the dairy industry and many school administrators) say that banning flavored milk will only result in kids drinking less milk.

What is the federal milk ordinance? ›

The Grade "A" Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) helps to ensure that Grade “A" milk and dairy products produced in the United States are among the safest in our nation, and the world.

What are the US guidelines for milk? ›

Daily Dairy Table
Daily Recommendation*
Toddlers12 to 23 months1⅔ to 2 cups
Children2-3 yrs2 to 2½ cups
4-8 yrs2½ cups
Girls9-13 yrs3 cups
9 more rows

What is the milk Act USA? ›

The Federal Import Milk Act (FIMA) was passed by Congress in 1927 to "regulate the importation of milk and cream into the United States for the purpose of promoting the dairy industry of the United States and protecting the public health" (Public Law 69-625, codified as 21 U.S.C. 141-149).

What is the dairy products Act? ›

( 1 ) The Board may by public notice require all or any persons having within the locality and at the time therein specified any dairy products in excess of a quantity specified in the notice owned by them or in their disposal or under their control for the purposes of trade or sale to make returns of the said dairy ...


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