Dietitians Urge Parents To Serve 'Milk With Meals

family-eating-breakfastAs families gather around the dinner table, what was once a staple of the meal -- milk -- might be hard to find. Over the past decade, milk at dinner has steadily declined, and today nearly 60 percent of children's dinners do not include milk, according to findings from The NPD Group(1). Conversely, nearly one-third of all kids' meals are served with a soft drink or fruit drink-beverages that are often loaded with sugar and missing important nutrients.

The percentage of overweight American children and teens has tripled in the last two decades and a recent report called What America Drinks(2) suggests that beverage choices may impact weight and the overall quality of the diet. With children consuming two to three times the amount of sweetened beverages as they do milk, mealtime presents the perfect opportunity for parents to control what their kids are drinking.

The New York State Dietetic Association and the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, Inc. are urging parents to think about what's filling their children's glasses and to make milk the official drink of family meals. "Choosing milk for family meals can have a real nutrition impact," says Beth Smythe, RD, a spokesperson and president-elect of the New York State Dietetic Association. "Each time you swap your child's soft drink for a glass of milk, you boost their intake of nine essential nutrients and they skip six teaspoons of sugar."

Local Survey Shows New York Moms Making Major Beverage Blunders

girl_with_milk_strawberriesA survey of 1000 New York moms sponsored by the New York State Dietetic Association and the American Dairy Association found that only 28 percent said they served milk with dinner. Just as startling was the fact that only 37 percent of moms said their children drank milk with lunch.

Meanwhile, the majority of moms said they drank milk with meals when they were growing up, but now that they have their own families, only 14% said that "milk with meals" is the rule in their house. Studies on mothers and daughters show that moms' own food choices may be more influential than any other attempt to control their daughters' food intake. A mother's decision to drink milk more frequently and to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is likely to influence her daughter's choices.

"Moms need to take advantage of all the milk options available today," says Smythe. "Today's dairy case is stocked with low-fat, flavored and single-serve milks -- even fast food restaurants offer single-serve milk chugs with Happy Meals -- and they all offer the same great package of nutrientsmainImage."

Moms can model “Drink your Milk!” without a Word

Children’s milk consumption has steadily declined over the past 35 years (Beverage Consumption Patterns, 1967-2001 and 1977-2006, USDA). Instead of milk, children and teens often choose sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks and juice drinks. The older children get, the less milk they drink.

Why is this important to children’s health? Beverage choice affects overall nutrition and health. Studies show that drinking milk (unflavored and flavored) and eating other dairy foods improves intake of many nutrients such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, folate, and vitamin B. At the same time, drinking more sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks and juice drinks, is associated with lower intake of calcium and vitamin D.

Moms have a lot of clout when it comes to helping their children make healthy choices.

Research shows that girls with higher dairy intake at age five continue to have high dairy intake over time (Mannino, et al. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Physc. Act. 1: 5, 2004). The 2010 Dietary Guidelines state, “It is especially important to establish the habit of drinking milk in young children, as those who consume milk at an early age are more likely to do so as adults.”

And research shows that moms who consume more milk have daughters who consume more milk and fewer soft drinks (Fisher et al, J. Nutr. 131: 246-250, 2001).