Milk for Toddlers: Answering all your Questions about Cow’s Milk and Alternatives!
Written by Jenn Messina, Registered Dietitian
Oh milk…Milk has become a hot topic and many parents are wondering what is best for their babies, kids and their families. As your baby approaches the 1 year mark you may be wondering when to introduce cow’s milk. You may also have questions about other popular plant-based milks that could possibly be used as a substitute. As a Registered Dietitian, and a mom of toddlers, I get asked these questions a lot so I’m here to give you some evidenced-based answers to these important questions. Here are some of the most common questions I get!
Is cow’s milk the best choice? When should I introduce it? Cow’s milk is an excellent source of protein, fat, calcium, vitamin D and a entire list of other micronutrients. When we compare it to breastmilk, it is the only one in the same ballpark for key micronutrients. As a result, it is the only milk recommended (other than breast milk or formula) for children up until age 2. Canadian guidelines suggest waiting until your baby is 9-12 months, and is eating a variety of iron rich foods, before starting them on cow’s milk.
How should I introduce it? Generally I recommend introducing milk slowly to help them adjust to the taste and nutrients it provides. For our kids, when it was time to transition we started decreasing the amount of formula given by bottle and replacing it with milk at meals. Over a few days we eventually transitioned them off bottles and they were just being given milk at meal times.
How much should my 1 year old be drinking? If you are breastfeeding you can continue to do so and offer up to 500mL of pasteurized whole (3.25% M.F) cow’s milk. For the non-breastfed toddler, pasteurized whole (3.25% M.F.) cow milk can replace infant formula at this time and 500mL per day is recommended. Cow’s milk is the only milk recommended up until age 2.
What about plant-based alternatives? No plant-based milk is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk (including almond, soy, coconut, oat, rice, hemp etc.) . Your child will not get enough of the nutrients they need if you provide any of these plant-based milks instead of cow’s milk. Plant-based milks are not recommended before age 2. If your family is vegan children are recommended to continue with fortified soy-based infant formula to help them meet their needs.
After Age 2: Milk and dairy products continue to be a healthy part of your growing toddler’s diet. You can switch to 1% or 2% milk at this time if it is what the rest of the family enjoys.
Which cow’s milk is best? In general, I suggest that consumers find a dairy farm that is local, with farmers that they know and trust. Meet the farmers, ask questions, visit the farm if possible. It is a great opportunity for you (and your kids!) to learn where your food is coming from! Keep in mind that grass-fed cows will have a higher concentration of omega-3 fats which are important for growing brains.
See this link on our recent article comparing conventional farms with organic and grass fed dairy farms: Different Milk Types
Pictured: Registered Dietitian, Jenn Messina and her Daughter.