For babies and small children, dairy is the usual source of fat, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. Breast milk or formula provides the bulk of calories in pregnancy, so you should start introducing cow’s milk into their diet as early as age one. Dairy continues to be an essential source of dietary fat, which is crucial for brain growth. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that toddlers eat two cups of dairy per day, which is the equivalent of 16 ounces of milk, for the ages of one and two years.
The AAP advises beginning reduced-fat milk between the ages of 12 months and two years in children at risk of being obese or whose households have a record of obesity, heart disease, or high cholesterol levels. From the age of two to three years old, your infant can consume about 2.5 servings of dairy each day, and they can turn to low-fat or nonfat milk.
On the other hand, a few other kids may not drink milk, which is fine as long as they get enough calcium and vitamin D from other milk alternatives for toddlers, such as yogurt and cheese. Many health professionals advise against giving children more than 16 to 20 ounces of milk per day because milk will fill them up and keep them from consuming more healthy foods. Furthermore, excessive milk intake can lead to iron deficiency (calcium inhibits the absorption of iron) and anemia.
So, what does a serving of dairy entail?
Milk: 8 ounces = one serving of dairy
Yogurt: 8 ounces = one serving of dairy
Cheese: 3 ounces = one serving of dairy
Grated Cheese: ⅓ cup = 1 serving of dairy
Children between the ages of one and two should consume two dairy servings each day, while children between the ages of two and three should consume 2.5 servings.
The Rise of Milk Alternatives
Over the last decade, milk substitutes have increased in popularity as more families opt for a dairy-free lifestyle. Furthermore, some children are allergic to the protein found in milk. Milk alternatives are necessary in both cases to ensure your child gets adequate protein and calcium. Knowing the differences in your choices will aid you in selecting the right option for your child.
Milk Alternative Recommendations
Toddlers need a lot of calcium, and dairy is an excellent source of it. If you’re looking for a milk alternative, opt for one that’s rich in calcium and has a comparable caloric value to cow’s milk.
Toddler formulas are enriched with vitamin D, iron, DHA, and other good fats and fiber (in certain instances, protective prebiotic fibers). They have a lower sugar content than cow’s milk. These additional nutrients are beneficial also for toddlers who consume a well-balanced diet, and they can be a suitable substitute for cow’s milk for those who are not breastfeeding.
Soy milk contains enough calories and protein for rising toddlers who have a dairy allergy or intolerance. Look for unsweetened soy milk supplemented with calcium and Vitamin D.
Since about 40% of children who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to soy milk, you should only give soy milk and soy baby formula to children with specific conditions.
Rice milk is for children with allergies to cow and soy milk and those who observe vegetarian or vegan diets. Still, it may not be the right option for your developing toddler because it is lower in protein, sugar, calorie, vitamin, and mineral content than other milk alternatives. If you’re going with rice milk, choose unsweetened varieties that are calcium and vitamin D fortified, and make sure your toddler’s food contains other protein, healthy fats, and vitamin and mineral supplements.
Compared to the younger toddler’s specific nutritional demands, almond milk, like rice milk, is deficient in protein and fat and may not be the suitable milk alternative. If you choose to use almond milk, go with unsweetened varieties that are calcium and vitamin D fortified, and keep in mind that your toddler’s diet should have some other protein and good fat sources.
Since hemp milk provides all of the same nutrients present in cow’s milk but at lower amounts, it can be a healthier part of your toddler’s diet when combined with a variety of whole, nutrient-rich foods.
Goat milk has more calcium, B6, vitamin A, and potassium than cow milk, but it is deficient in folate and B12. If goat milk is your primary source of nutrition, make sure to add folate and B12 to their diet or choose fortified goat milk as a substitute for cow’s milk.
Ripple Milk, pea-based protein milk with calories and protein equal to cow’s milk, is also a good milk alternative for a newcomer to the market.
To summarize, using a toddler formula is not always appropriate in most situations. Whatever milk or milk substitute you prefer to add to their diet, talk to your pediatrician first and maybe a registered dietician to make sure their diet lacks calcium, vitamins, or minerals.