Milk is a required component of the National School Lunch Program, but the nutritional basis for this requirement is beyond patchy. More and more people are taking note that dairy is not the end-all be-all source of calcium it has long been touted to be. Dairy foods are not the only foods that offer this bone-building nutrient in an adequate or high quantity, and they even come with a few (major) drawbacks.

Dairy is quite high in saturated fat and cholesterol, compared to our leafy greens, peas, soy and broccoli, which are not. Cutting out the fat and serving kids skim or low-fat cheese is not the solution. Recent studies have been showing that kids who drink skim milk may even be more likely to be overweight than those who drink full-fat milk. The hypothesis used to explain this is that skim milk doesn’t make kids feel satisfied or full, so they consume even more calories after drinking it.

Not only is excess fat and cholesterol something we all ought to avoid, but there is evidence that the animal protein in dairy products may cause us to lose calcium from our bones. Woosh! Where did our calcium argument go? Out the window, I’m afraid. But growing kids with growing bones need calcium! What to do, where to go, who to turn to?! Turn to plants, my friends! Not only will plants offer an absorbable calcium without saturated fat or cholesterol, but they offer darn-near a zillion other micronutrients (like beta-carotene and zinc), fiber, and fewer calories than dairy products.

And then there’s chocolate milk. Take an already questionable food item, add chocolate and sugar, and offer it to kids at school. Why? With obesity rates among children as scary-high as they are (in 2012, over a third of all kids and teens were either overweight or obese), this only serves to add insult to injury…

On top of all this, let me remind you that a large proportion of our population is unable to digest lactose. Lactose intolerance is more common among Asian-, Native, African-, and Mexican-Americans. Its symptoms include gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, and flatulence. Why, in the name of calcium, are we subjecting children to these bodily discomforts by promoting milk consumption in schools? It’s downright shameful.

A closer look at the health implications of dairy in schools reveals some seriously flawed logic. If dairy is high in saturated fat and cholesterol, indigestible to many, and not even an adequate calcium source, why are we serving it every day in our school lunch programs across the country? With obesity rates as high as they are, we should seriously reconsider this antiquated, dangerous practice. School lunch should be healthy, not harmful.

Image source: Walk By the Way Journal/Creative Commons