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Schools Keep the Flavor in Low-Fat Milk but Lose the Sugar

With all schools in the Prince George’s County School District joining the Healthy Schools Program come fall, Christi Dorsey decided last spring that she needed to be proactive about finding beverages that would be compliant with the Alliance’s School Beverage Guidelines. Dorsey, Dietitian/Nutritionist for the district, was determined to find a fat-free strawberry milk product that her students would enjoy.

In March, Dorsey reached out to her local dairy and began the dialogue. The company knew there was high demand for the product and were interested in working together to meet the needs of the district in time for the new school year. April was spent in discussions about price and product specifications. By May they had a new strawberry milk formula that was ready to be tested by students and staff.

“You really need to get the students involved in making the decision because they are your customer,” said Dorsey. “If the students do not buy-in to your changes, it fails.” Dorsey worked with consumer science students and staff to test the new milk product. They even tested it at different temperatures and agreed that it should be served at or below 41 degrees.

With positive reviews in hand, the company finalized and approved the new milk and guaranteed that it would be available to all schools in Maryland and D.C. by fall at the same price as the higher fat product. According to Kate Lampel Link, Alliance Competitive Foods and Beverage Manager, “Companies need to know of schools’ needs. Schools need to demonstrate that there is a demand for healthier products. When a company hears a request enough times, or is very motivated to please its customers, it will often explore ways to find a solution. The old adage ‘the customer is always right’ aptly applies when we’re talking about kids and health.”

The process involved taking out the processed sugar and experimenting with different forms of natural sugars. The final product uses beet juice to color the milk instead of artificial coloring. The original strawberry milk had about 36 grams of sugar and was 1% milk (2.5 grams of fat/cup), and the new product has 22 grams of sugar per 1 cup and is fat free. It has 130 calories. In switching to this new formulation, students drinking this milk will consume about 2500 less grams of sugar per school year, thereby reducing intake of 10,000 calories!

Dorsey is pleased with the final product. “The flavor is good and the kids really don’t notice a difference. Overall, I’m 100% satisfied!” She stresses how important it is for food service providers to always search for better options. “This process doesn’t stop. You are constantly reevaluating where you are as a Food and Nutrition Department in terms of the types of products you serve to your students. You can’t and you shouldn’t get too comfortable.”