Chocolate milk is one of the refrigerator staples at the Heltzel household. Jennifer Heltzel is the mother of three teenage girls, Dana, Darcy and Danielle, and 9-year-old son, Drew. She’s also a dairy farmer on 4th generation Piney Mar Farm in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania. Chocolate milk is the family’s go-to drink throughout the day for quick nourishment and hydration.
“The girls have learned that drinking chocolate milk is a great way to refuel,” says Jennifer. “On days when they are traveling to away games, I strongly encourage them to take insulated beverage containers with chocolate milk to drink. Extra cheese and fruit go along too.”
The Heltzel children are an active bunch. Jennifer says they’re into a variety of sports, they play various musical instruments, and are involved in lots of clubs and activities like Marching Band, 4-H, and Future Farmers of America.
“Crazy,” says Jennifer when asked what a regular day is like for her family. “We’re a typical American family, eating on the run,” says Jennifer, taking it all in stride. On top of their already demanding schedules, on weekends, the kids take turns helping with milking and feeding the calves on the farm and have their other animals to care for.
Jennifer makes sure everyone is up and heading in the right direction each morning before she heads off to work at the barn. “Making nutritious milk starts with our passion and dedication to our farm, the land and the animals,” says Jennifer. “Everything we do centers around our cows — from where they rest, to what they eat, to how we treat them. It’s hard. It’s like caring for 120 toddlers.” Jennifer feeds the calves, tends to the cows and milks them, and cleans up after them.
“It’s up to us every day to make sure our cows have what they need. We work with our veterinarian, our nutritionist, our agronomist and a whole host of other specialists to make sure we are always doing the best to care for our cows,” says Jennifer. Her goal is to have most of her work done and be home by the time her children get home from school.
“When they come home from school, they are famished,” says Jennifer. “We have found that with growing teenage girls, it’s super important to keep them eating nutrient-dense foods. Especially when ‘hangry’ time comes around. They have learned that a glass of milk helps them regulate their blood sugar. The girls have noticed that by keeping dairy as part of their diets, they can make it through 2- to 3-hour practices without wearing out.”
Jennifer’s oldest daughter, Dana, ran cross country up until this year. The 17-year-old is the Blair County alternate Dairy Princess. Following in Dana’s footsteps, Darcy, 15, runs track and field and is Blair County Dairy Promotion Program Dairy Miss. She just gave up basketball to join the club level soccer team. Darcy and her sister Danielle, 13, have been playing soccer since they were four years old. Danielle is also a Blair County Dairy Promotion Program Dairy Miss. Not to be outdone by his sisters, Drew plays soccer and wants to start Karate next fall.
Hydration is important, especially for athletes. “When you drink milk, the fat in dairy helps you retain much of the hydrating value of it compared to drinking water. My kids have learned to look at the 3:1 carb to protein ratio on the milk they drink to help feed their tired muscles. We’ve talked about the value of the potassium and other minerals in milk to help them recover lost nutrients after they play. To me, all these things are important for my kids and for all our athletes,” says Jennifer.
Her children know the benefits of choosing chocolate milk over other sugary drinks and have gotten a following of their team mates to choose chocolate milk, too. “It’s amazing to me how many kids will take milk when given the choice,” says Jennifer. “When parents see my kids drinking milk, it’s amazing the discussions that it opens. What I have found is that most parents simply don’t know how good dairy can be for their family.”