#17: How much milk should a toddler drink? And non-dairy recommendations

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This episode explains exactly how much milk a toddler should drink and includes answers for breastmilk and non-dairy alternatives, too.

Once your baby becomes a toddler, it can be harder to figure out the balance between solids and milk. And it can be confusing to know how to handle it if you don’t really want to serve cow’s milk, or can’t serve it due to allergies. 

The pediatrician might recommend a certain amount of whole milk, leaving you unsure what to do if your little one won’t drink that much, drinks more than that, or doesn’t drink any cow’s milk. 

You’ll get all the answers you’re looking for in this episode!

And if you are curious about what a daily meal & snack schedule should look like for a one year old, be sure to check out the 12 month old feeding schedule episode.

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Today’s question:

Hi, my name is Josh. I have a 1 and 1/2 year old daughter. I am interested in reducing the dairy intake for our family for environmental reasons. I’ve been told that we should be providing a certain amount of whole milk each day for her and I’m just curious what we should be considering if we’re looking to reduce or eliminate milk from our diet. And if there are any other alternatives that we could use. Thank you.

dad in grocery store looking at milk what kind of milk should a toddler drink

Answer

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How much milk should a toddler drink?

If you’re around my age you remember the “Got milk?” ads from when we were little. You’ve probably had it drilled into your head that milk is absolutely necessary if you want a shot at your kid having strong, healthy bones, and growing well.

And milk absolutely has its benefits. But it is NOT NECESSARY for your child to grow well, be healthy, and have strong bones. There are other ways. That’s the beauty of food and nutrition. Especially in today’s day and age, there are so many options. Double edged sword though, I know, because so many options can make it confusing and overwhelming. But that’s what I’m here for.

How much cow’s milk should a toddler drink?

If you are going to serve cow milk, the goal is about 16 to 20 ounces, or 2 to 2.5 cups a day. 

What age should they drink whole milk until?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends whole milk from 12 months + through age 2. This is primarily for adequate fat and calorie intake. You can switch to 2% or 1% when they are 2 but you don’t have to. It’s personal preference after 2. The nutrition is not THAT different. 5g sat fat per cup of whole; 3g in 2%. 

Can I give my baby any cow’s milk before they turn one?

Not as a beverage, not as a replacement or substitute for breastmilk or formula. It doesn’t have the full nutrients and it can be potentially harsh on their kidneys in larger quantities. Say you want to make a bowl of oatmeal with milk, or add it when baking, that’s fine.

My baby is 11 months – can I switch to cow’s milk now?

Check with the pediatrician but if it’s a few weeks before their first birthday and you start the transition away from formula or breastmilk, and start with just a few ounces of cow’s milk, that *should* be okay. 

baby drinking milk

ALTERNATIVES TO COWS MILK

How much breastmilk should a toddler have?

This is really a personal preference. But if they are nursing about 3 to 4 times a day past 1, then you don’t really need to give them any other milk, cow or nondairy. 

If they are only nursing 1-2x, then I would include either:

  • 8-12 oz cows milk
  • 8-12 oz nondairy substitute (i’ll give recs in a minute)
  • 1-2 servings of yogurt or cheese

How much non-dairy milk should a toddler drink?

The amount will be the same as for cows milk: 16 to 20 oz per day.

What is the most nutritious non-dairy milk for toddlers?

But for the type of non-dairy milk, you’ll want to be more selective. The AAP officially recommends fortified soy milk and that is fine. It is nutritionally similar to cows milk in terms of protein, calories, calcium and vitamin D. 

I know some people get nervous about soy because you may have heard that it has an estrogenic effect. I did some more research on this. But soy in normal amounts, say 2 cups of soy milk a day, is not a concern. I would limit products made from soy- like soy protein isolate- but if you stick to soy milk, tofu, edamame, tempeh, I would not stress.

The other recommendation I have is pea milk. The brand here in the US is Ripple. Why it’s not officially recommended by the AAP I have no idea, maybe just not enough of a body of research yet, but it is really similar nutritionally to both cows milk and soy milk.

Many other non-dairy milks are essentially flavored water with some calcium. Almond milk, rice milk, and hemp milk are low in calories. 

Oat milk is popular right now, so I’ll do a nutrition comparison:

  • Full fat Oatly: 
    • 160 calories so it’s not low calorie which is good for growing kids
    • 3g protein, less than half that of cows milk
    • Has comparable calcium and vitamin D

What about toddler milk? Or toddler formula?

Are these harmful? No. Do we want to move more toward a diet with solid foods and finger foods and not rely on bottles for toddlers? Yes. So in most cases toddler milks or toddler formulas will not be needed. 

How much milk is too much?

3 cups a day or more is too much in my opinion. It’s going to crowd out the ability to get all the other nutrients needed, it could cause constipation, and it can further picky eating.

How much milk is not enough?

So the kicker here is that they don’t NEED milk, but you do need to be aware of filling in the gaps for protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Vitamin D I typically recommend a supplement regardless because it’s found in very few foods. I love the d drops that are just vitamin D and a dash of coconut oil.

 If you want ideas to get calcium without milk, go to this post, What to do if your toddler isn’t drinking cows’ milk

What cup to use for milk?

One last thing to address is CUPS. Sippy cups are cancelled. Munchkin 360 cups, cancelled. This is due to Speech Language Pathologist and Occupational Therapist recommendations for the best facial muscle use and development. 

The recommendations are to use open cups and straw cups. I have tried a LOT of cups – my favorites are in my Amazon shop.

Breakfast ideas?

When I think of milk I think of breakfast, and I have a post on the blog with 18 healthy toddler breakfast ideas.

Wrap up

That’s it for today’s episode on how much milk and what kind of non-dairy alternatives I recommend. Please subscribe to the podcast, and tell a friend about it if they have a toddler so they can get these quick tips too. Talk to you next week.

RESOURCES:

12 Month Old Feeding Schedule

Vitamin D Drops

My Amazon Shop

18 Healthy Toddler Breakfast Ideas

MILK RESOURCES:

Milk for toddlers 

Soy milk for toddlers 

What to do if your toddler isn’t drinking cows milk

Podcast Episode #5 – Milk

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