Milk offers several vital nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, fat, and protein. Toddlers require these nutrients to maintain several physiological functions and healthy development. However, several other foods, such as lean meat, fish, and tofu, can also offer these nutrients. So is feeding milk to toddlers necessary? How much milk should a toddler drink each day?
This post answers all your queries and shares about the possible health benefits of milk for toddlers, potential risks associated with its overconsumption, and tips to regulate milk intake.
How Much Milk Should A Toddler Drink?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), healthy 12-month-old babies can transition from breastmilk or formula to whole cow milk (1). Here’s how much milk they should consume per day as per their age (2).
- 1 to 2 years: 16 to 24oz. (2 to 3 cups)
- 2 to 5 years: 16 to 20oz. (2 to 2.5 cups)
Transitioning your baby to whole milk doesn’t mean you need to cease breastfeeding as soon as your baby is 12 months old. Instead, you can continue breastfeeding as long as you and your toddler are comfortable.
If a toddler has milk allergy or lactose intolerance, they can’t consume whole cow milk. They should be fed fortified and unsweetened soy milk to meet their needs for essential nutrients, such as protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamin D (2).
Other plant-based milks, such as fortified oat or almond milk, are alternatives you may consider. However, do consult a pediatrician first since plant-based milks may contain additives, such as added sugars. Besides, they have less protein, vitamin D, calcium, and fat compared to whole cow’s milk (2).
When Should A Toddler Consume Low-Fat Or Non-fat Milk?
Babies between 12 and 24 months should drink whole milk. Feeding whole cow milk to babies under two years is vital due to its fat content that aids brain development (3). Experts advise that children aged two and older should drink skimmed (non-fat) milk or low-fat (1%) milk (1). However, this recommendation may not stay valid if a child has slow or poor weight gain or has some medical issue warranting them to have full-fat milk. Thus, it is good to consult your healthcare provider before transitioning your toddler to low-fat milk.
Do Toddlers Necessarily Need Milk?
Whole milk offers several vital nutrients that toddlers need to grow and develop. Besides, it’s easy to consume, readily available, and affordable, which is why whole cow milk is a preferred beverage for toddlers. But if you are a vegan or your toddler has milk allergy or lactose intolerance, then cow milk isn’t the right choice.
Does this mean your toddler’s diet will lack vital nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, and protein? The answer is No. Milk isn’t the only food that can provide all these nutrients to your toddler. Instead, it’s the well-balanced diet containing different foods from various food groups that gives all the nutrients to an individual.
- Protein from quinoa, pulses, legumes, and soy products, such as soy milk, tofu, and tempeh
- Healthy fats from plant-based oils, seeds, nuts, and their butter
- Calcium from veggies (kale and okra) and tofu
- Vitamin D from mushrooms, fortified cereals, oily fish (tuna and salmon), egg yolk, and red meat
Thus, the key to effectively replacing milk is feeding your toddler a well-balanced diet planned in consultation with a pediatric nutritionist. An expert can help you choose the right foods in appropriate amounts for your toddler, alleviating nutritional insufficiency.
Potential Problems Associated With Milk Overconsumption
Parents may accidentally overfeed milk to their toddlers or older toddlers may demand more milk and overconsume it. Overfeeding milk could raise the following concerns (6).
- Reduced appetite: Whole cow milk is fat-rich.Its overconsumption can fill your toddler’s tummy easily, leading to a reduced intake of other foods. It can lead to nutritional imbalance, increasing the risk of nutritional deficiencies and health concerns, such as constipation, over time.
- Impaired absorption of certain nutrients: Milk contains small amounts of iron. Besides, calcium and casein (protein) in milk interferes with iron absorption (7). Thus, excessive milk consumption may cause iron insufficiency, leading to iron deficiency anemia (IDA) over time. IDA can affect a toddler’s cognitive and motor development (8).
- Calorie excess: Whole milk is high in fat and carbs. Hence, its excess consumption, especially after two years of age, can lead to calorie excess. Calorie excess can expose a toddler to unwanted weight gain, raising the risk of several health conditions, such as type-2 diabetes, in the long term.
Tips To Regulate A Toddler’s Milk Intake
Eating a well-balanced diet and drinking an extra cup of milk occasionally seldom cause any issues in toddlers. However, if you feel your toddler is overconsuming milk, you need to regulate it. Here are some steps that can be helpful.
1. Reduce milk intake gradually: A sudden change in milk quantity may upset a toddler, causing them to refuse other foods. Be patient and slowly bring down the quantity of total milk to the recommended levels. You can do this by giving small amounts of milk per serving. For instance, you can serve them four or five ounces of milk instead of seven or eight ounces per serving.
2. Incorporate milk into different meals: Make milk a part of a meal instead of serving it as a standalone beverage. It can help develop a toddler’s taste for other foods while keeping milk intake within healthy limits. Here’s how you can add milk into your toddler’s daily diet in moderation.
- Breakfast: ½ cup cooked quinoa in ½ cup milk, including ¼ cup of chopped fruit and 1tbsp toasted seeds and nuts (finely chopped)
- Midday snack: ¼ cup dry roasted lotus seeds with ½ cup milk
- Lunch: ½ cup whole-grain pasta loaded with veggies with ½ cup milk
- Evening snack: 1 cup milkshake with one mini sweet/savory muffin
- Dinner: ½ cup mashed potatoes with meatballs and ½ cup milk
3. Consult a pediatric nutritionist: It is essential if your toddler only prefers drinking milk rather than eating. A doctor will evaluate your toddler and check for any food aversions. Food aversion is a feeding problem where a baby/toddler/child refuses to eat foods of particular texture, taste, smell, or appearance (9).
How To Create A Balanced Diet For Toddlers?
You can ensure your toddler eats a healthy, well-balanced diet by feeding them several foods from different food groups. Also, maintain a balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fats) across main meals and snacks. Here are some tips that you can follow to create a well-balanced, healthy meal for your toddler.
- Include different whole grains, cereals, and millets in the diet. It will help add variety to the diet and break the monotony that often occurs when you repeatedly serve the same food. Also, keep refined grain and cereal product intake to a minimum.
- Keep a source of animal or plant protein in every meal. It includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. While choosing high-protein foods, select lean protein sources, such as soy products like tofu, unsweetened yogurt, beans, legumes, low-mercury fish, and chicken.
- Add different foods containing healthy fats. Avocado, seeds, nuts, and seeds/nuts butter are some choices you can consider. Vegetable oils, such as olive oil, are some other sources of healthy fats that you should feed your toddler.
- Serve plenty of fruits and veggies as they offer macro and micronutrients, too. While adding fruits and vegetables to your toddler’s diet, stick to seasonal options for enhanced flavor and nutrition. Alternatively, you can choose frozen, dried, and canned fruits and veggies as well.
Use herbs and seasonings to make the food flavorsome. Make eating exciting and appealing by involving your toddler in meal planning and preparation.
Milk is a nutritious food that toddlers should consume in moderation. However, if your toddler can’t drink milk, it doesn’t mean they will have nutritional deficiencies. Remember, no one food can offer all the nutrients. The key to averting nutritional insufficiency or deficiency is a healthy and well-balanced diet offering variety in moderation.
2. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025; USDA
3. Feeding Your Baby and Toddler (Birth to Age Two); C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
4. Calcium; Vitamins and Minerals; NHS
5. Protein; Harvard T.H. Chan
6. Toddlers and milk – how much is too much? Growing Early Minds
7. Biochemistry, Iron Absorption; NCBI
8. Ignacio Jáuregui-Lobera; Iron deficiency and cognitive functions NCBI
9. Hye Ran Yang; How to approach feeding difficulties in young children; NCBI