Kid Friendly Meals

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Milk Alternatives for Toddlers

milk-alternatives
Photo: @reneeherlocker

Alternative types of milk drinks from grains and nuts have been taking up more and more shelf space in supermarkets.  While soy and almond used to be the dominate plant-based milks, now you can find cashew, hazelnut, coconut, oat, and more! These plant milks are tasty but are not always nutritionally adequate substitutes for dairy milk from cows.

After age 1, children can start to drink whole cow’s milk. And after age 2, doctors recommend low-fat milk like 1% milk. Dairy milk is usually the standard recommended by healthcare professionals as it has a good nutrient profile for growing children. There are reasons, however, that some parents would need to consider alternatives.

  • Your Child may not like the taste or reject dairy milk. If this happens, be sure to offer multiple times and in multiple ways (like mixing with breast milk) as it takes time for children to accept new foods and flavors.

  • Some kids may have an allergy to dairy.

  • parents choose to have their children avoid dairy or other animal products.

If your child does not drink dairy milk from cows, there are important nutrients he or she may miss out on. Since nut and grain milks are not naturally high in nutrients common in dairy milk, it is important to look at the labels and nutrition facts panels to see if they have been fortified.

Here are the key nutrients to look for:

Vitamin D

  • Children 1 year or older need 15 micrograms/day of vitamin D.
  • Look for at least 2mcg or 10% of the Daily Value on the label.
  • Vitamin D helps with bone growth, and deficiency of vitamin D in growing children causes bone disorders like Rickets. Vitamin D can be generated through exposure to sun, and there are not a lot of foods with naturally occurring good amounts of vitamin D.

Calcium

  • Children 1-3 need 700mg/day of calcium. 4-8 year olds need 1000mg/day.
  • Calcium is important for bone growth and strength.

Protein

  • 1-3 year olds need 13g/day of protein. 4-8 year olds need 19g/day.
  • 8oz of dairy milk contains 7g protein.
  • Protein amounts vary in plant milks and are often quite low. Be sure your child is getting other protein foods.

If you are concerned, talk to your pediatrician or health care provider. They may recommend a supplement or other alternatives to make sure your child has a healthy and nutritious diet!

Jennifer Martin-Biggers

Jennifer is the Associate Director for Nutrition Sciences and Regulatory Affairs at Munchkin. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and holds a MS and PhD in Nutrition as well. Jennifer is a child nutrition and nutrition communication and research expert. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Society for Nutrition, and the Institute of Food Technologists.