What Does a ‘Zero-Sugar’ Policy Cost?

Sugar. It is a big controversy lately and many believe it is the cause of the childhood obesity epidemic-so much so, that families and schools are reducing or even eliminating sugar from the menu. A zero-sugar policy, however, does not always create a nutritional win. In fact, a mere 1-2 tablespoons is enough to double the nutritional value of a breakfast at my house. Allow me to explain.

I hold two degrees in nutrition, a national credential, 15 years of experience in the field and fed more than 6,000 kids a day in my past job as a Child Nutrition Director. My kids, ages 8 and 13, don’t care about any of that. They care if the food we’re eating tastes good, what’s going on at school and if our weekend schedule will allow them to accept invites from friends.

Whether I’m answering questions from moms on our post, working with school nurses, or talking to physicians who want to make a difference in schools, there is one concern that comes up again and again: “We know milk is good for our kids, but we know sugar is bad, so how much flavored milk is too much?”

Having a daughter who only goes for the chocolate milk-even at breakfast-it’s an issue that hits close to home. There is no shortage of quality research on the topic, but craving data specific to my house, I conducted my own “un-scientific” experiment over the course of two months. The first month I followed what we had always done-serving only white milk for breakfast. The second month, I served only chocolate and measured what was left in the glass at the end of every breakfast.

On the days only white milk was served, with lots of encouragement, my daughter drank anywhere from 25-65 percent of her glass. This translates to an average of 4-5 grams of protein, 10-15 percent of her daily value for calcium, potassium and vitamin D, and ZERO added sugars.

On the days flavored milk was served, she happily drank every drop, going off to school with 8 grams of protein, 30% of her daily value for calcium, and 25 percent of her daily value for both potassium and vitamin D, with only 1-2 tablespoons of added sugar. WOW – double the nutrition! And I didn’t have to nag!

The fact is, flavored milk accounts for only 3 percent of the added sugar in kids’ diets, but is power packed with nutrition. It is something my kids will easily consume that is good for them, which equals a nutritional win for me.

Do your own experiment: Ask yourself where the nutritional win is at your house and let us know how it goes! We love hearing from you.

Mickela Mitchell, MS, RDN, LDN

Mickela Mitchell