Chocolate milk seems to get a free pass. Yes, it has added sugar, but it also has calcium, so many parents feel that the pros outweigh the cons. It’s an easy way to get kids to drink milk, and with all of the single serving options available, many parents buy it for lunch boxes or pick it up at cafes like Starbucks so their kids have something special to drink too.
Chocolate milk has also become a popular quick breakfast option for many families who use products like Nesquik, Ovaltine, and Carnation Instant Breakfast, which have added vitamins and minerals and seem relatively healthy.
However, these products contain more added sugar than you might realize. Adding a serving of Nesquik to a cup of milk delivers 12 grams of added sugar, or 3 teaspoons. In fact, the first (and main) ingredient listed on the label is sugar. Premixed chocolate milk is about the same – it typically contains from 9 to 11 grams of added sugar per serving, depending on the brand. For example, the pre-packaged Horizon Organic Lowfat Chocolate Milk Box contains 10g of added sugar.
To put these numbers into perspective, think about this: the American Heart Association suggests that children ages two and older have less than 25g (6 teaspoons) of added sugar a day. Using this guideline, one serving of chocolate milk delivers around half of a child’s daily added sugar allowance. And our Sugarproof recommendations that are more age specific and in line with the World Health Organization suggest even less added sugar per day for younger kids. Using our guidelines, kids ages 2-4 should have no more than 3 ½ teaspoons of added sugar per day – or roughly the amount of sugar in just one single serving of chocolate milk!
In addition to the extra sugars, these products often contain other ingredients like modified starches, stabilizers, and artificial flavors that parents may not want their kids to be having regularly.
If your kids like chocolate milk, you don’t have to settle for a product that has added sugar and processed ingredients. Try this flexible recipe from Sugarproof to make a chocolate milk drink at home without added sugars that is customized to your child’s preferences.
Emily’s seven year old likes to help make his own version with unsweetened almond milk, banana, ice, cocoa powder, and peanut butter. Using ¼ to ½ a banana per serving (to taste) for the sweetener adds between 3.5 and 7g of total sugar to the milk, but no added sugar. The riper the banana, the more sweet it is; we suggest ripening bananas, peeling them, and freezing them for later use. The banana also contributes extra vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Michael’s daughters like a version with cocoa nibs and dates. If you use dates as a sweetener, know that each date contributes around 4.5g of total sugar depending on the size.
See the recipe below and experiment with your own combinations. You can also develop other all-natural flavors like strawberry milk with added fresh or frozen strawberries.
By making homemade flavored milk instead of buying it, you can involve your kids in developing a customized drink based on their preferences, teach them about nutrition, avoid giving them extra added sugar and processed ingredients, and add extra fiber to their diet by using a whole fruit sweetener.
Sugarproof Homemade Chocolate Milk
- 1 cup unsweetened milk of choice (dairy or plant-based)
- 1/2 cup ice (optional)
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, raw cacao powder, or cacao nibs
- Whole fruit sweetener: ¼ to ½ of a ripe banana or 1-2 dates (or a combination)
Optional additions: 2 teaspoons additional protein/healthy fat like nut butter, nuts, or unsweetened protein powder of choice
Optional toppings: chopped nuts, fruits, cacao nibs, or cacao/cocoa powder
Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Pour into a cup or a shallow bowl for sipping or eating with a spoon.
Sprinkle with optional toppings and serve.
NUTRITION FACTS PER SERVING*: Calories 180 Total Fat 8g Protein 9g Total Carbohydrate 20g Dietary Fiber 1g Total Sugars 15g Added Sugars 0g
*Note: nutrition facts generated using whole milk with ¼ banana as a sweetener.