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The Chocolate Milk Mistake

July 30, 2012

If you give your kids chocolate milk to get them to drink milk, you would be better off giving them a glass of plain milk and a Dunkin’ Donuts Chocolate Frosted Donut.

The total sugar intake would be slightly lower (although a few grams more or less hardly makes a difference).

  • One cup of lowfat chocolate milk has around 28g of sugar (depending upon the brand).
  • One glass of plain, lowfat milk has 12g of sugar. Add a Dunkin’ Donuts Chocolate Frosted Donut (13g) for a total of 25g.

More importantly, the milk and donut option will teach your kids two important lessons:

  1. What real milk tastes like.
  2. That the sweet part-the donut-is a treat.

In contrast, chocolate milk teaches kids that:

  1. Plain stuff isn’t tasty, but chocolate certainly is.
  2. Somehow, mixing milk with chocolate negates the chocolate, rendering the whole drink healthy.

Chocolate milk should be an occasional treat, not a daily (or even weekly) staple.

I know what you’re saying: some of the sugar in chocolate milk comes from the milk itself.

But that just drives home the point that milk is already sweet. Why sweeten it even more?

And: You’re worried about your children’s calcium intake.

There’s really no need to worry. Kids 1-3 only need about 500mg of calcium per day. That can be fulfilled in lots of ways:

  • 2 cups of milk
  • A cup of milk and some cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup of milk and 1 container of organic whole milk yogurt.

There is also calcium in spinach, tofu, salmon, pudding, ice cream and a myriad of fortified cereals and juices.

Ironically, giving your kids chocolate milk on a regular basis because you’re worried about their calcium intake will ultimately reduce their calcium intake. Training tiny taste buds to prefer sweet foods reduces the range of foods your kids will eat, thereby reducing the sources of calcium (other than chocolate milk) that they consume.

Just how sweet is chocolate milk? Compared to the 28g of sugar in one cup of chocolate milk…

  • One Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar = 24g of sugar.
  • One serving of Cocoa Krispies has 12g of sugar.
  • 2 Entenmann’s Softees Powdered Donuts = 26g of sugar.
  • One Dairy Queen Child’s Chocolate Cone = 17g of sugar.
  • One Dairy Queen Child’s Chocolate Cone with Rainbow Sprinkles = 22g of sugar.
  • One Dairy Queen Child’s Chocolate Cone with Oreo Pieces = 28g of sugar.
  • An apple fritter at Starbucks = 27g of sugar.
  • One 12-ounce can of 7UP = 25g of sugar.
  • 6 Oreo Cookies = 28g of sugar.
  • 1 large Pepperidge Farm Soft Baked Chocolate Chunk Dark Chocolate Brownie = 13g of sugar.

Of course, if you give your children the 16-ounce bottle of Nesquik chocolate milk (58g of sugar) – which your tot will probably drain since research shows that the container size determines consumption – you might as well give your kids a McDonalds Hot Caramel Sundae: it has only 44g of sugar.

The fallacy of using the nutrition model to feed kids is that it encourages something I call Selective Attention and the Feel Better Approach: we focus on the dimension of food that makes us feel better (in this case the calcium) and overlook the dimension we would rather ignore (the sugar).

Unfortunately, good eating habits can’t be shaped that way because it’s the desirable, not the nutritious, aspect of food that shapes how our kids really eat.

Chocolate begets more chocolate; it never leads to carrots. Or spinach. Or tofu.

Dina Rose, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert who empowers parents to raise kids who eat right. For more valuable information, be sure to visit her website It’s Not About Nutrition.

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