Milk for kids: what parents need to know
How much milk should a young child/toddler drink?
- Four servings of starchy carbs like potatoes, pasta, bread or rice a day
- Four servings of fruit and vegetables a day
- One serving of animal protein such as meat, fish and eggs or two of plant-based proteins such as beans and lentils a day
- 350ml of whole milk or two portions of dairy foods such as cheese, yogurt or fromage frais a day
Why is milk a nutritious choice & what type of milk is best?
During periods of rapid growth, your child’s nutrient needs will be high. Cow’s milk is a nutrient-dense food and an excellent source of many of the nutrients a child needs to support their overall development. For example, cow’s milk is a good source of B vitamins including vitamin B12, which supports red blood cells and B2 which helps convert food into energy. Whole milk and other dairy foods supply the macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates), whilst also being a source of important minerals like calcium and phosphorus – these help children build strong bones and teeth.
The fat in whole milk provides important calories for young children. This is vital because youngsters don’t have the capacity to consume large quantities of food but need nutrient-packed options to meet their needs.
It’s not necessary for the rest of the family to drink whole milk, you can still use lower-fat milks in cooking as long as you use whole for your toddler’s drinks and snacks. Once your child reaches two, you can introduce semi-skimmed milk provided they are eating well and are growing at the right pace for their age. Skimmed milk is not recommended until they are over five years old.
Full-fat dairy has other benefits – it supplies vitamin A. This fat-soluble vitamin promotes growth and helps the body build strong mucous membranes, which is essential to help fight infections. Vitamin A is also needed for healthy skin and eyes.
What do I do if my child doesn’t like milk?
There are other options if your child doesn’t like milk, but be aware that most milk substitutes are lower in protein and fat, as well as calcium, unless fortified. These nutrients may be obtained from other foods; for example, in calcium-fortified cereals, dried fruit and dark green leafy vegetables. Seeds and nuts are also useful sources of calcium but because of the risk of choking, offer them as nut butters, tahini or ground and added to cereals or bakes. Most toddlers aren’t keen on the foods which are naturally rich in calcium, so be prepared to make calcium-fortified options a staple, if necessary.
Meat, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes are all useful sources of protein and in most cases fat, whilst potato, rice and pasta supply carbs.
What if my child is vegan or lactose/dairy intolerant?
Can you drink too much milk?
If your toddler has a liking for milk, don’t forget that drinking a lot of it will fill them up, making them less likely to eat other foods. This may mean their diet is low in other key nutrients and fibre; low levels of fibre may lead to constipation and associated potty-training issues.
Milk is a highly nutritious food and as such its calorie content, if consumed in excess, may lead to weight gain. If you feel the amount of milk your child drinks may be leading to excess weight or an avoidance of other foods, consider reducing the amount of milk you offer and talk to your health visitor for more advice.
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