The Changing Face of School Cafeterias

With less sugar and calories, nutrient-rich flavored milk welcomes children back to school

By Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., pediatrician  

As a parent, you probably know what your kid eats for breakfast and dinner, but what about lunch each day? Typically, kids get about 30 to 50 percent of their calories while at school – the good news is there are several changes happening in school cafeterias across the country, making lunch time nutritious and delicious.  

This year, parents across the country will be pleased to see more fruits and vegetables (especially those nutrient-rich leafy greens and orange vegetables), a focus on lessening sodium and the introduction of whole grains in unexpected places, like pizza. But one of the most impressive changes happening throughout the country includes changes to children’s favorite school drink – flavored milk.

Over the last five years, milk processors across the nation have been working with their local districts to lower the calories and sugar in the cherished school drink, and the industry’s reformulations are projected to result in fat free and lowfat chocolate milks with 38% less added sugar than just five years ago.   

This school year when kids pick up a carton of flavored milk with their lunch, the majority will be less than 150 calories. Already, the most common flavored milk this fall will beat that goal – fat free chocolate milk with 130 calories and only 10 grams of added sugars.

This means that on average, flavored milk reformulations will have just 31 calories more than white milk and all the same nutritional benefits.

As a mom and practicing pediatrician, I know most kids age nine and older are far from the recommended three servings of dairy a day.  Research shows flavored milk drinkers drink more milk, so flavored milk can be a great addition to help us boost milk for our kids.  

Of course we wouldn’t suggest kids stop drinking white milk,
but if they’re drinking flavored milk with their meals at lunch instead of no milk, and it only has 31 more calories than white milk, I’m okay with that!  Through my work with the milk industry, I’ve learned what’s at risk is that children will miss out on the nine essential nutrients, which are the same in both white and flavored milks, if they won’t drink the options provided at school.

Due to concerns about childhood obesity, some schools have made the decision to remove flavored milks from the cafeteria.  Even though these bans have been well-intentioned, they have done more nutritional harm than good.

Research shows that when flavored milk is removed from the lunch line, students drink less milk. If milk is not consumed with the noon meal, it’s nearly impossible for children to meet their needs for calcium, vitamin D and potassium, nutrients which are already identified by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as limited in children’s diets, and milk is the number one food source of these essential nutrients in the American diet.

If you want to learn more about the reformulated milk available in schools across the country this fall and more on the research mentioned here, please visit

A leading medical authority on child health, Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann is a best-selling author, parenting expert, working mother and UCLA-trained pediatrician who practices in Southern California.


About The Author: 

“Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents’ Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers” hit several best sellers’ lists after its release last fall. She is also Editor-in-Chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ parenting book, “The Wonder Years,” and Associate Medical Editor of their best-selling “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5.”

She stays on the cutting edge through her position as an Assistant Clinical Professor at Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, as the pediatric advisor for the Newborn Channel and her private practice.