Milk is often called a complete food because it is rich in calcium, vitamin D, fat, and protein. However, this leaves most parents wondering this question, “how much milk should a toddler drink?”
The nutrients in milk help in the healthy development of toddlers and the maintenance of their physiological functions. However, several other foods, such as lean meat, fish, and tofu, contain the same nutrients. Hence, it isn’t easy to decide whether or not to feed milk to a toddler every day.
Generally, if children cannot drink milk, a well-balanced diet can provide all the required nutrients. However, it is important to consult a pediatrician before replacing milk in their diet.
Read this post to understand 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?
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).
4. Give your toddler multiple meals — at least four to six solid meals in 24 hours besides milk.
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 provides protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Still, if your child cannot drink it due to lactose intolerance or other issues, it is important to consult a pediatrician before replacing it with other food sources. Usually, you can offer unsweetened soy milk or other plant-based milk to children instead of dairy milk. However, remember that a well-balanced diet consisting of whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables is always preferred over extra milk consumption. A wholesome diet ensures that children get all the important nutrients necessary for healthy growth. If you have a doubt about what to include in your child’s diet, a pediatric nutritionist can answer your queries.
- A toddler of 1 to 2 years of age should consume 16 to 24oz. of milk per day.
- To create a balanced diet, include foods that are rich in protein, healthy fats, calcium, and vitamin D.
- To regulate a toddler’s milk intake, reduce the quantity gradually, incorporate milk into different meals, and feed them multiple times.
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