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Got chocolate milk? Dairy product returns to Mount Vernon schools

January 8, 2019 GMT

MOUNT VERNON — When it comes to lunchtime, Fridays are special days in the Mount Vernon School District.

For the past several years, Friday has been the only day students at any of the district’s schools have had the option of getting chocolate milk.

Last Friday, one student after another at Harriet Rowley Elementary School made just that choice: putting a carton of chocolate milk on their trays, right alongside blueberries, carrots and pizza.

“I like chocolate milk, but not milk,” said 6-year-old Britany Sanchez. “Chocolate milk is the best.”

Districtwide, school officials say, many kids seem to agree with Britany.

Many students dump out their white milk into 5-gallon buckets stationed at the end of each lunch table or give back their unopened cartons.

“It was just a ton of money going down the drain,” said Cheyenne Walker, the district’s assistant supervisor for Nutrition Services. “We really want the kids to drink the milk and get the vitamins and nutrients.”

As of today, chocolate milk is returning to the district’s lunch menu five days a week.

“I don’t think it’s something like we’re moving to something that’s less healthy,” Nutrition Services Supervisor David Connors said. “We’re moving to a model where we hope kids will consume more milk at the school instead of just dumping it down the trash.”

The decision to remove chocolate milk from the district’s lunch options was made about 12 years ago at the urging of high school students who wanted healthier school lunches, Connors said.

“The unintended consequence was that the kids don’t drink the white milk,” he said.

At Harriet Rowley Elementary, custodian Francisco Gonzalez said he notices a significantly smaller amount of milk waste on Fridays — about a bucket and a half less for each grade level.

At the end of four lunch periods on Friday, only two unopened cartons of milk, both chocolate, had been returned.

Walker said that in Northwest Washington, Mount Vernon was one of only a few school districts that did not offer chocolate milk on a regular basis.

While chocolate milk has more sugar than white milk, the difference is negligible, Walker said, especially when weighed against the nutrients lost by not drinking any milk.

“It’s so much more beneficial for those kids to get the vitamins and the minerals in milk,” she said.

The initiative to bring chocolate milk back, Connors said, was student-driven and community supported.

Of 381 parents and guardians who responded to a survey asking whether they would like to see chocolate milk brought back to the daily menu, 67 percent of parents said yes, according to a letter sent from the district to its families in late November.

In September, the Mount Vernon School Board approved the decision to bring back chocolate milk on a daily basis.

“I treasured the opportunity to get chocolate milk,” board member Rob Coffey said. “It is, after all, wholesome milk.”

While schools in the district offer breakfast for students, chocolate milk will not be an option at that meal, Connors said.