chocolate milk juice new Brunswick schools

Chocolate Milk and Juice Divide a Province

The milk war isn’t just a Canada/US issue. My social media has been filled with passionate opinions on both sides of the debate regarding New Brunswick’s decision to ban the sale of chocolate milk (and juice) in schools.

For me, I’m never going to complain that my children’s choices are limited to healthy options at school because it still means they have options. I might be in the minority here, but I never had the option to buy meals in elementary school. Every child brought lunch or went home. There was no cafeteria. Once a month, Fridays were Hot Dog Day, and parents came to the school and cooked a few hundred hot dogs on the stove in the teacher’s room. You could buy one for a dollar, but even then lots of kids still opted out. For a few years there was a milk program; you’d pre-pay for a small carton of white milk that was delivered to your classroom mid-morning. That’s it. No vending machines. No microwaves. And we all survived. So take out the chocolate milk and juice; I’m just glad there’s a salad bar and hot lunch option for my kids on the days I’d be happy sending them with Lunchables or whatever else I can grab quickly when I haven’t scheduled my meal prep properly.

Before we continue much further, let’s just clarify the changes. First, these changes do not in any way apply to foods and beverages that students bring from home. You can still send what you want in your child’s lunch. But schools in our province are not to sell or make available (so vending machines, canteens, fundraisers, etc.) items such as “flavoured milk and juices,” as “all food and beverages sold, served, or otherwise offered … [must be of] a higher nutritional value which are lower in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.” Honestly, how is that a bad thing? Do I think chocolate milk and juice are terrible choices? No. But they don’t need to be everyday choices and that’s the point with this change.

Some critics say it’s not the schools’ place to monitor what children eat. No, it’s not. But it is within the mandate of every school to teach our children. The goal of these changes is not only to combat obesity, but also to teach children about nutrition. In the words of Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Brian Kenny; “It is important that we … teach [our students] what a proper meal looks like.”

Generally, children eat just one meal a day at school, five days a week. That leaves 16 other meals each week that are not impacted by these changes. I don’t expect every meal a child eats to be perfectly balanced; my kids certainly don’t eat like that, even on the days I manage to create meals that set a proper example. But they are learning about healthy choices and most of that is coming from school, not necessarily here at home. Our daughter, in Grade One, knows to look at labels to consider daily recommended intakes for sugar and fat to determine how much of something is appropriate at a certain meal. That’s a life skill I’m just learning as an adult.

I didn’t have an issue with chocolate milk and juice available at school. And I’m not opposed to the odd bake sale, cotton candy stand, or ice cream cake fundraiser. But I support the overall goal of this change – and I can allow my children to enjoy treats any of the 140-odd hours a week they are not at school. They’ll survive without chocolate milk and juice for 25 hours a week.

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said.

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