Coalition proposals for scrapping free school milk descended into confusion after Downing Street insisted the cut would not go ahead.
Number 10 stamped on the suggestion despite health minister Ann Milton saying the scheme for under-fives was too expensive and there was no evidence it benefited children.
Aides to Prime Minister David Cameron made clear that he "did not like the idea" of cancelling free milk, and that it would "not be happening".
However, the intervention left universities minister David Willetts floundering in a television interview, as he initially said that ending the provision was on the table - only to be informed on air that it had been ruled out.
The controversial proposal had echoes of Margaret Thatcher's removal of free school milk for over-sevens in 1971, when she was education secretary.
That decision earned her the nickname "Milksnatcher" among critics.
It also raised the prospect of more friction within the coalition - as senior Liberal Democrats have previously praised the provision of free milk.
The Nursery Milk scheme allows children under five in approved day care to receive 189ml (1/3 pint) of milk each day free of charge.
Babies under 12 months can also receive dried baby milk made up to 189ml.
It dates back to 1940, when milk was issued to pregnant women and young children to protect them against wartime food shortages.