Milk is available in Singapore, but it’s expensive. Like everything, it’s imported. You get whole milk (“fresh milk”) and they have something called Hi-lo (which is supposed to be lowfat milk) but you can’t get 2%, 1%, buttermik, heavy cream, etc. Restaurants (with the exception of McDonald’s) do not give milk with kids meals…instead, all toddlers/little kids drink Milo.
According to the Milo Singapore page…
In 2006, MILO® commemorates its 22nd year of production in Singapore – a fact unknown to many. MILO® is and has been produced in Singapore since 1984. Singaporeans’ favourite energy drink is a staple of many Singaporeans’ diet and is popular across generations. Many fondly remember waking up to a hot cup of MILO® prepared with love and affection by their mothers in their childhood or the ever popular MILO® van, at sporting events.
It’s a chocolate drink. I think it’s prepared with either hot or cold water, and at restaurants it’s served over ice in the kids meals.
The first time I ran into Milo was at the KFC at the zoo (the only restaurant in the Kidzworld area). I had asked for milk and I thought they’d given me chocolate milk. After several minutes of cultural confusion, I was finally made to understand that while it’s a “milk drink” (it has powdered milk in it) it’s not milk and they don’t serve milk at all. I was completely thrown, but wrote it off as a random occurrence.
As we’ve eaten at a wider variety of food places, with the noted exception of McDonald’s I have run into Milo again and again. You can substitute soda for Milo, but when I’ve asked for water instead, I’ve been given the kind of look I’d only expect to see if I had asked if I could have some weapons-grade plutonium with my kids meal.
I asked my helper, B, about it as she’s been helping raise kids in Singapore for the past 3 years. She told me that milk is very expensive (a 2L bottle is the cost of a gallon of milk at home) and people don’t have that kind of money to give kids milk. So either they’re breastfed or have formula and then start drinking Milo fairly young. Milk is seen as something only for older kids (because they won’t spill it? because they don’t drink as much liquid in a day as little kids? not sure…) and that it’s too much for little ones. (Please see correction below from a local mom)
The idea of giving my 18 month old a chocolate drink seems pretty unnecessary and the start down the path to sugary drink addiction, so I haven’t given it to her yet. I realize that my resistance is pretty American of me…but I didn’t realize how American until I saw the comments on a recent Motherlode (NYTimes parenting blog) post entitled “Two products I just don’t understand”-one was a chocolate toddler formula not unlike Milo (the other was denim colored diapers).
The almost universal reaction was horror. There was some discussion about the notion of toddler formula in general (and I’m not trying to start that war here) but the idea of giving toddlers chocolate flavored anything was anathema.
Am I product of my culture or am I right to be wary of Milo and it’s strangely compelling grip on the country (grocery stores have H-U-G-E displays of Milo)? Or am I just refusing to take part in a culture I have chosen to move to? (Then again, it’s not like either Ravi or I are willing to try pig snout soup either).
Well, when it comes to Milo, I think I get a free pass…because Elanor doesn’t like chocolate. She doesn’t like M&M’s, she did not like the chocolate on some ice cream I offered her, and she rarely likes products with chocolate in them (chocolate chip cookies and ice cream sandwiches are her exceptions). I have a hard time seeing her like this stuff…which is my excuse and I’m sticking with it.
*********Updated to Add*****************
I just got the following comment from a local Singaporean mom and I wanted to add part of her comment into the post as a correction.
I’m a mother myself, and my kid drinks Milk on a regular basis. I don’t really like to let her drink Milo often, but it is something which is more of a treat for her. She is five now, and drinks both powdered milk and fresh milk.
I’ve encountered the same No Milk problem at KFC, Burger King, most restaurants in fact, except for Mac’s, you’re right. But I would think tht the main reason for mums giving their younger kids Milo in these places is that it comes in a set kiddy meal, the only other choice is a carbonated soft drink, its accepted in our culture as a healthy/energy drink, so they just shrug and accept it.
Honestly, I doubt many Singaporean households actually find milk expensive…. a 1L pack of HL Milk (you called it HiLo) is only about 2 plus dollars, and UHT Milks are only $1.90 per 1L packet. I don’t even have any idea how much milk costs in the states, so how do we compare? Is it really that expensive?
For mums, especially those of my generation, we would be aware of the importance of calcium for our kids, and cost wouldnt be that great of a factor in this case.
I would think rather, that the businesses in question find Milo more profitable than Milk. (It being a powdered drink that can be bought directly from the factory in Singapore).
When I bring my girl out for meals, I bring a bottle of water, or a packet of UHT Milk.
A point of clarity–UHT Milk is Ultra High Temperature Processed milk that does not need to be refrigerated until opened. It has a shelf life of 6 months. It totally freaks me out.