Chocolate milk has long been a staple beverage in school cafeterias, but recent stories about a potential U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ban on chocolate milk in schools has some people wondering if that’s changed. Currently, “chocolate milk ban” is a top Google search.
Has the USDA banned chocolate milk in schools?
Spokespeople for several school districts, including Los Angeles Unified School Districts, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, D.C. Public Schools, Rock Hill Schools in South Carolina, Oakland Schools in Michigan and Dublin City Schools in Ohio
No, the USDA hasn’t currently banned chocolate milk in schools, but it is considering a proposal to remove it from elementary and middle school menus.
WHAT WE FOUND
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed updated nutrition guidance for school meals that includes an option that would remove chocolate milk from school meals for younger students. A second option keeps chocolate milk available for students of all ages.
The USDA is still considering both options and has not made any changes to its school nutrition regulations yet.
The proposed change is intended to limit students’ intake of added sugars. In its proposal, the USDA says there isn’t any limit to added sugars in school meal programs currently, but consuming too many added sugars can lead to health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Flavored milk is the leading contributor to added sugar in both school lunch and breakfast programs, the USDA says.
Between Feb. 7, 2023, and May 10, the USDA requested public comment on its proposed nutrition standard changes, which would add a 10-gram limit of added sugars to flavored milk — including chocolate milk — and would maintain a preexisting requirement that unflavored milk is offered at each school meal service.
In addition to those changes, the USDA is proposing one of two options for the remainder of the new regulations on added sugar in flavored milk.
The first option would not allow schools to include flavored milk in meal offerings for kids in grades K-5 or K-8, while continuing to allow flavored milk for older kids. If this option made it into the final rule, it wouldn’t be effective until the 2025-2026 school year.
The second option would continue to allow both flavored and unflavored milk for students of all grades, so long as the milk meets the new standards for added sugars.
The current rule requires that unflavored milk be offered at each school meal service, but allows both flavored and unflavored milk to be offered to children in all grades, so long as the milk is low-fat or fat-free.
When the USDA finalizes its decision, it will affect school districts and independent schools that participate in its National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. Participating schools receive USDA funding and support in exchange for serving meals that meet federal nutrition regulations. Schools that do not participate in this program are not required to follow said regulations.
Several school districts that VERIFY reached out to, including Los Angeles Unified School Districts, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Rock Hill Schools in South Carolina, Oakland Schools in Michigan and Dublin City Schools in Ohio confirmed they are still including chocolate milk in meal offerings to students. Multiple districts noted the ban hasn’t gone into effect, nor is it finalized.
Whitney Linsenmeyer, a nutritionist at Saint Louis University, said there can be 12-15 grams of added sugar in a carton of chocolate milk depending on the brand. Joan Salge Blake, director of Boston University’s nutrition program, said cartons from some brands schools might use could have as many as 17 grams of added sugar.
The two options reflect a tradeoff between more aggressively limiting the added sugars intake of younger children and the USDA’s recognition that children are more likely to drink what the USDA calls a “nutrient-dense beverage” if it tastes good.
The USDA says it will consider the public’s input from the comment period when it finalizes the new standards, including when it makes its decision on which option to go with. A spokesperson for Michigan’s Oakland school district said the final rule is expected to be published in Spring 2024.
There are school systems that already discourage serving students chocolate milk or ban it entirely, but these decisions are independent of the USDA’s proposed rule changes. Washington, D.C., has required schools to only offer unflavored milk since 2010, a spokesperson for D.C. Public Schools said. Similarly, New York City has encouraged school principals to remove chocolate milk from school meals for several years.