Mighty Blog

Milk and kids – recommendations from a pediatrician

The dairy aisle at your grocery store is full of choices. They offer milk with different percentages. Growing in popularity are milk alternatives like almond, soy, oat and others. There are also now powdered drink mixes being promoted as “toddler milks.”  

Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota, is here to help families decide what’s best for their kids when it comes to milk. 

What milk do pediatricians recommend for young kids? 

Milk provides a lot of different elements that are essential for healthy growth and development like calcium, vitamin D, protein, vitamin A and zinc.  

The best choice for young kids is simple: It is pasteurized, plain whole cow’s milk. 

Young girl with braids in her hair drinking milk out of a glass

Why is pasteurized, plain whole cow’s milk the best?

Whole milk

It is important for young children to get fat in their diet for healthy growth and development. But, if your child has excessive weight gain or other health risk factors, talk to your child’s doctor about the type of cow’s milk to give. 

Pasteurized milk

Pasteurization is necessary to prevent bacterial illness such as salmonella, that can be dangerous, especially for young kids. 

Tips for giving milk to kids: 

  • You can introduce milk at 1 year old. 
  • Kids ages 1-2 years old should have 16 ounces a day. 
  • Kids ages 2-5 years old should have 16-24 ounces a day.
  • Kids should drink at least 13 ounces of whole vitamin D milk a day if they are not getting vitamin D from other foods.

If you give your child more milk than the above amounts, it can lead to lack of food intake. When your child doesn’t eat food and prefers milk, it can cause its own host of challenges, like iron deficiency anemia. 

What about plant-based milk?   

Plant-based milk is not recommended for children to drink in place of dairy milk. That is because most plant-based milks are not nutritionally-equivalent to cow’s milk. They may lack important nutrients like healthy fat, protein, vitamin D and calcium.  

Plus, it’s important to keep in mind that plant-based milk often contains added sugar and calories. 

What if my child has a dairy allergy or intolerance? 

For kids with a dairy allergy or milk intolerance, fortified soy beverages are the only milk alternative that help meet a child’s recommended dairy needs. 

What is “toddler milk” and is it recommended?  

Toddler milks are often marketed by formula companies as “next stage” or “transitional” milks for your child to wean from breast milk or formula. These milks are unnecessary so we don’t recommend using them.  

Using toddler milk to fill in “gaps” in their diet often backfires and makes kids less likely to eat a balanced diet. For most children, they provide no nutritional advantage over a well-balanced diet that includes breast milk and/or cow milk. Plus, they are also more expensive and contain added sugars. 

Dr. Chawla on WCCO

Dr. Chawla discusses this topic with WCCO.

Alexandra Rothstein