By Emily and Michael
Photography by Lori Lovoy-Goran
Did you see all of the recent articles about how nearly half of American adults are confused about where chocolate milk comes from and 7% think it comes from brown cows? The Washington Post, USA Today, Food and Wine, Today, and NPR all reported these findings from a survey conducted by the Innovation Center for US dairy, talking about how surprising it is that so many people are disconnected from where their food comes from. As another article in NPR later clarified, this online survey wasn’t an actual scientific study. It was instead part of a successful dairy industry marketing ploy to bring attention to chocolate milk and to help dispel “myths” about it.
Another “myth” that the dairy industry would like to dispel is that “chocolate milk is not as nutritious as white milk.” They certainly market chocolate milk as a healthy choice for kids. And with a huge range of available products, it’s a big seller. Thanks to the juice-box-style packages designed for kids, it has become a popular choice for lunchboxes and treats at cafes like Starbucks. Thanks to products like Nesquik, Ovaltine, and Carnation Instant Breakfast, which have added vitamins and minerals to make them seem healthier, it’s a popular, quick breakfast option.
Many parents feel that the pros of chocolate milk outweigh the cons and are fine with letting their kids have it. That’s the way the industry spins it. Offering chocolate milk is a way to get kids to increase their calcium intake. If it takes a little extra sugar to achieve that result, then so be it.
But these products actually contain more added sugar than many parents realize. Adding a serving of Nesquik to a cup of milk delivers 11 grams of added sugar, or nearly 3 teaspoons. In fact, the first (and main) ingredient listed on the label is sugar. Premixed chocolate milk is about the same – according to the Dairy Council of California, it contains from 8 to 12 grams of added sugar per serving, depending on the brand. For example, the pre-packaged Horizon Organic Lowfat Chocolate Milk Box contains 22 grams of total sugars per 8FO (1 cup) serving. Since we know that 8FO of plain milk contains around 12g of naturally occuring sugar (lactose), the other 10g of sugar come from the added organic cane sugar.To put these numbers into perspective, think about this: the American Heart Association suggests that children ages two and older have less than 25g (6 teaspoons) of added sugar a day. One serving of chocolate milk can deliver as much as half of a child’s daily added sugar allowance. In addition to the extra sugars, these products often contain other ingredients like modified starches, stabilizers, and artificial flavors that parents may not want their kids to be having regularly.
If your kids like chocolate milk, you don’t have to settle for a product that has added sugar and processed ingredients. Try this flexible recipe to make a chocolate milk drink at home without added sugars that is customized to your child’s preferences.
Emily’s four-year-old likes to help make his own version with unsweetened almond milk, banana, ice, cocoa powder, and almond butter. Using ¼ to ½ a banana per serving (to taste) for the sweetener adds between 3.5 and 7g of total sugar to the milk, but no added sugar. The riper the banana, the more sweet it is; we suggest ripening bananas, peeling them, and freezing them for later use. The banana also contributes extra vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Michael’s daughters like a version with cacao nibs and dates.
If you use dates as a sweetener, know that each date contributes around 4.5g of total sugar depending on the size. See the recipe below and experiment with your own combinations. As you will see from the table, you can spare your kids a good deal of added sugar by making your own chocolate milk drink. You can also develop other all-natural flavors like strawberry milk with added fresh or frozen strawberries.
By making homemade flavored milk instead of buying it, you can involve your kids in developing a customized drink based on their preferences, teach them about nutrition, avoid giving them extra added sugar and processed ingredients, and add extra fiber to their diet by using a whole fruit sweetener. By going this route, nobody is left feeling confused about where the milk came from, what’s in it, or if it is healthy.
Homemade Chocolate Milk Drink:
Keep the flavor, skip the added sugar
–1 cup unsweetened milk of choice (regular or nut milk)
–1/2 cup ice (optional)
–1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, raw cacao powder, or cacao nibs
–Whole fruit sweetener: ¼ to ½ of a ripe banana or 1-2 dates (or a combination)
–2 teaspoons additional protein/healthy fat (optional), like nut butter, nuts, or unsweetened protein powder of choice
–Optional toppings: chopped nuts, fruits, cacao nibs, or cacao/cocoa powder
–Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
–Pour into a cup or a shallow bowl for sipping or eating with a spoon.
–Sprinkle with optional toppings and serve.
Makes 1 serving, or can be shared if desired.
Sample Chocolate Milk Drinks Comparison Table