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Flavored Milk vs Veggies for Calcium

Posted Feb 02 2011 4:03pm
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Today I'm pleased to publish a guest post by Jenna Pepper .  Jenna is a recovering picky eater and real food advocate sharing with parents the truth; kids can transform their taste buds.  Whether you have a reluctant eater or a snack fiend on your hands, there is hope.  She is involved in school food reform in Houston, TX Spring Branch ISD.  Jenna is the author of the Eat to Learn program, which is in the first year of implementation at Sherwood Elementary.  Fruit and vegetable consumption at school lunches is up 10% since the program began.  Check out her blog Food with Kid Appeal where she can help you grow good eaters.

Questioning the belief that sugars in flavored milk are a necessary evil to get calcium in kids

Fear that kids won’t get enough calcium if they don’t drink daily milk is pretty common.  Parents would fear this without marketing from the dairy industry because “growing bones” is mission critical for short people.  The dairy industry makes this fear even worse by convincing school districts to serve flavored milk to students, so that kids don’t miss out on the calcium they need.  If that practice wasn’t enough, the milk industry started its Raise Your Hand for Chocolate milk campaign to keep parents believing that flavored milk - with added sugar, usually high fructose corn syrup - is a necessity for a growing child.  They play on a parents fear that their child’s growth will not be optimized unless milk is consumed daily.

Add to that the fact that most school food programs have removed a lot of the real food that contains naturally contains calcium from the menu, replacing it with factory food of little or no nutritional value.  The nutritional value of the factory food is usually in the form of vitamin or mineral enrichment, versus naturally occurring nutrients in whole real food.  In districts where greens are served in the hot lunch line, they are often overcooked unpalatable blobs of green that no child or adult would find appealing. 
Is it accurate?  Are most kids in need of extra calcium?As Ed Burske reports in an article summarizing the findings by a panel of medical authorities regarding calcium intake among children , most children are not in need of extra calcium as the dairy industry has brain-washed parents into believing.  Chairman of school nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, Dr Walter Willet says that milk is not an essential nutrient.  “We aren’t seeing a lot of children with factures,” he said citing lack of evidence suggesting children’s bone growth is impaired by lack of calcium.
What some parents might not know is that while milk contains more calcium than a serving of calcium containing vegetables, the calcium in some vegetables is more readily absorbed and utilized for bone health than it is from milk or other calcium enhanced products.  That means that a serving of broccoli may do your child as much or more good as the milk.  Last time I checked there is no high fructose corn syrup in broccoli.  The question isn’t "is dairy a good source of calcium for bone health."  The question is calcium from dairy essential?  I’m not convinced.  Animals in nature seem to get enough calcium to support their bone health from their diet, which doesn’t include dairy products past weaning from mother’s milk.  If animals can get enough calcium from leaves, as Annemarie Colbin, author of The Whole Food Guide to Strong Bones suggests, perhaps humans can too.  Exercise too is critical for bone health.  I guess animals get plenty of exercise in their daily quest for food in the wild.  Less so for humans who drive to the store and pick up a week’s worth of groceries in an hour or less.
But Kids Don’t Like Vegetables Nope.  Not true.  I put this myth to the test in a Houston, TX elementary school.  400 students tasted 9 different vegetables and fruits including calcium containing broccoli and spinach.  And do you know what happened?  4,951 tastes later the punch cards revealed that 82% of students from Pre-Kinder through 5th Grade tasted all 9 items.  Many kids asked for more spinach and broccoli.  25% of students voted a green vegetable as their favorite produce tasted, even when up against orange and pear.
Tasting spinach at a school Taste Off Competition.
I’m not asserting that kids prefer vegetables. Most kids would still pick chocolate milk over broccoli as their favorite.  I’m saying that kids will eat vegetables.  Parents, teachers, school food service professionals listen up.  Kids will eat vegetables. 
Step One:  Serve vegetables in a palatable way - raw on a salad bar.  Step Two:  Get the sugared-up and packaged stuff off the menu.  Step Three:  Teach students that vegetables fuel their brainStep Four:  Watch veggies (and calcium) go down the hatch.
It took me two years to fall in love with kale.  My mistake?  Cooking it.  It is so much better chopped in thin slices added to other greens in a salad. Varieties other than curly kale work best raw in salads.  Don’t believe me? Try leafy greens like kale raw in your next green salad.  See what the kids think. 
Thanks so much, Jenna!  Great information and food for thought.  At my son's school, they offer chocolate milk, 2% plain milk, or a small cup of juice (half the amount of the milk cartons!) for their lunch.  While I wish that they would also provide an easy source of water with their lunches, I've been pleasantly surprised this year that the majority of the kids choose the unflavored milk!  The kids also happily get veggies from the salad bar (the first thing in the food line) and eat them.  Small steps, but important ones!
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