Los Angeles schools will remove high-sugar chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk from their lunch and breakfast menus after food activists campaigned for the change, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy announced this week.
The policy change is part of a carefully negotiated happy ending between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Oliver. The chef's confrontations with the school system became a main theme in the current season of the TV reality show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution."
The timing of the flavored-milk ban, which had been under consideration for some time, gave Oliver a positive outcome and allowed the nation's second-largest school system to escape the villain's role. Deasy quickly alerted the school board to the deal before going on television.
In early episodes, Oliver's show had presented former Supt. Ramon Cortines and school board members with unflattering sound bites and camera angles. But with Deasy, the British chef gushed that he'd enroll his own child in L.A. public schools, if he had one here.
L.A. Unified led the nation in efforts to ban junk-food snacks and sodas, but its meals could be healthier, despite exceeding federal standards.
"A popular breakfast offering of Frosted Flakes doused in chocolate milk with a side of coffee cake and a carton of orange juice contains 51 grams of added sugar (or 79 grams of total sugar counting those that occur naturally in the milk and the juice)," wrote USC school-nutrition experts Emily Ventura and Michael Goran in a recent Los Angeles Times editorial. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar, they noted.
Food activist Matthew Sharp called the impending ban, which would take effect in the next school year, "an important teaching tool for students to wean off the sweet tooth" that again puts L.A. Unified among national leaders in nutrition.
The high-sugar chocolate milk has been banned in other districts across the country, including Fairfax County in Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Other steps to improve school food in Los Angeles could include swapping out burgers in favor of sandwiches and offering pasta and soup rather than chicken nuggets, said Sharp of the nonprofit California Food Policy Advocates.
Healthier offerings could cost more, however, and prove less popular, jeopardizing federal funding if student consumption drops. That same concern holds with eliminating flavored milk, although the menu change itself will have no added cost.
About 75% of milk sold is flavored, Oliver noted on the Kimmel show.
Sharp said he anticipated a slight, temporary drop in milk consumption. But, he added, "it's a little tough to know how the real audience of students will react."