In an effort to encourage more dairy consumption among teens, schools and farming organizations are partnering up to push a product people love so much it can become slightly addictive: coffee.
According to a spokesperson for Dairy Management Inc., an organization funded by more than 41,000 dairy farms in the U.S., milk consumption is on the decline among people of all ages. Today, with teenagers opting to drink trendier alternatives like plant-based milks and sparkling flavored waters, the traditional milk carton has lost a bit of its luster.
The solution? Make milk trendy again by putting it in something cool. Now, makeshift coffee bars are popping up in high school cafeterias throughout the country.
One program, called Moo Brew (which is run by the association of Florida Dairy Farmers), funds freestanding coffee kiosks wrapped in pro-dairy artwork at several high schools. Each kiosk serves lattes made with 8 ounces of milk and 2 ounces of coffee, plus added flavorings that students may customize.
The Moo Brew program says it has several objectives, including allowing participating schools to "gain revenue by offering coffee flavor combinations that students may otherwise select offsite" (ie they'll be spending their allowance at school, not at Starbucks) and it also allows "students that might not normally select milk with their school meals to consume milk."
Dairy Management's spokesperson told TODAY Food that they are not currently tracking how many programs like Moo Brew exist, but they have seen similar efforts pop up at schools in the Southwest and Midwest over the past few years. In Texas, for example, the Dairy MAX "Moo-La-tte" program offers schools funding to receive the necessary equipment to set up coffee bars. Ultimately, the main goals of pushing milk consumption and getting revenue for schools are top priorities.
But are these freestanding booths really good for the kids they serve?
Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition expert and mom of three, said that she would definitely like to see kids drinking more milk (and less soda) these days.
"It’s the best source of calcium, potassium, protein and vitamins A and D for growing bodies. It’s hard for kids to get the calcium they need for developing bones and teeth without dairy," Largeman-Roth told TODAY.
However, Largeman-Roth is wary of teenagers and pre-teens consuming their milk by way of a latte, especially when that latte may come with added sugars or artificial flavorings. Many cafeterias have also been getting rid of vending machines that sell sugary sodas, so replacing them with coffee bars that sell sugary drinks isn't a good solution from a nutritional perspective.
"While I love the idea of kids drinking more dairy, I’m not sure coffee is the best way to do it. I will say that for high school athletes, a small amount of caffeine before a sporting event could be fine, but only if they’re not combining it with a caffeinated energy drink," she said. "Too much caffeine can lead to cardiac and neurological issues in kids and teens."
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, kids under 12 should not have caffeine at all and older adolescents should not consume more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is about what you would find in an 8-ounce cup of coffee. Comparably, a 12-ounce soft drink has 30 to 40 milligrams of caffeine, and an 8-ounce energy drink has 40 to 250 milligrams, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.