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The battle for healthier school lunches has featured fights over soda and claims that ketchup is a vegetable. And now the lines are being drawn over chocolate milk. Some schools have banned it.
And as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, the dairy industry is fighting back.
JEFF BRADY: Lunchtime at Flatirons Elementary in Boulder, Colorado, but there's no chocolate milk on the menu. It's a topic of discussion among second graders like Ella Lyons.
Ms. ELLA LYONS: No one's going to get regular milk if we have chocolate milk, because I think they're going to like it better because it tastes better, but it's not good for you. So I think we shouldn't have chocolate milk.
BRADY: Standing nearby is Ann Cooper. She's responsible for expelling chocolate milk from the entire school district. That sort of behavior has earned her a nickname, the renegade lunch lady.
Ms. ANN COOPER (Nutrition Services Director, Boulder Valley School District): Believe it or not, serving kids salad bar and organic milk is seen as renegade.
BRADY: So, what's you beef with chocolate milk?
Ms. COOPER: Chocolate milk is soda in drag, as far as I'm concerned.
BRADY: Well, that's just kind of funny. But, I mean, is that really true? Because, I mean, there are nutrients in chocolate milk that aren't in soda, right?
Ms. COOPER: That is true. But from a sugar standpoint, in many chocolate milks, there's 3.1 grams of sugar per ounce. Soda is 3.3. It's so close.
BRADY: There are no hard statistics showing how many schools have gotten rid of chocolate milk so far, but it's clearly enough to worry the dairy industry.
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Woman: I'm raising my hand for chocolate milk. How about you?
BRADY: The industry launched this campaign recently with a video on Facebook and an online petition to keep chocolate milk in schools.
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Woman: Your bodies need to grow healthy and strong.
BRADY: Chocolate milk in lunch rooms is big business. More than half of all flavored milk is sold in schools � that's about four percent of all milk sales in the U.S. And a lunch room is a good place for the dairy industry to pick up new customers. Kids will take eating habits they learn here into their adult lives. And that's important because of one significant statistic that's been bugging the dairy industry for decades. Here is Ohio State University dairy economist Cameron Thraen.
Professor CAMERON THRAEN (Dairy Economist, Ohio State University): The per capita consumption of fluid milk in all of its formulations has been declining in the U.S. since the 1960s.
BRADY: The Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk campaign is part of the industry's effort to stop that slide. Ann Marie Krautheim is a dietician with the National Dairy Council.
Ms. ANN MARIE KRAUTHEIM (Dietician, National Dairy Council): We know that when flavored milk is taken out of the school, kids' milk consumption goes down.
BRADY: And she says children already don't drink enough milk. Krautheim says when other choices include sugary juices and soda, milk needs a sweet flavor to compete.
Ms. KRAUTHEIM: A small amount of added sugar is an acceptable tradeoff for the nutrients provided in milk.
(Soundbite of school)
BRADY: Back at Flatirons Elementary, though, most of the students appear to be signing up with the renegade lunch lady. Jacob Austin is a fifth grader.
Mr. JACOB AUSTIN: Well, I'm pretty sure chocolate milk has maybe some unhealthy ingredients in it. And the little ones might get, like, addicted to it, so�
BRADY: There is one contingent seated at a nearby table crying out for choice. Here's Lindsey Lavington(ph) and Juliana Jager(ph).
Ms. LINDSEY LAVINGTON: Some people won't drink any milk if it's not chocolate milk.
BRADY: But you're drinking regular milk.
Ms. LAVINGTON: I know, but other people don't.
Ms. JULIANA JAGER: Because we don't have the choice right now.
BRADY: Renegade lunch lady Ann Cooper says there are healthy ways to make milk more palatable to kids. For starters, make sure it's kept really cold. And those little paper cartons that sometimes smell funny, she says, get rid of them.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.
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