What to Do if Your Toddler isn’t Drinking Cow’s Milk (Nutrition & Drinking Tips)

You just finished celebrating your one-year-old’s birthday, and you know it’s time to start them with drinking cow’s milk. Or, it’s one or two or 6 months after their birthday, and you are really ready. But…your one-year-old refuses to drink cow’s milk. 

Keep reading to learn how to get your toddler the nutrition they need and get them interested in drinking cow’s milk.

Or watch the video here:

Making the Switch to Cow’s Milk

Your pediatrician told you it’s time to switch your one-year-old over to milk and you’re ready, but your little one is less than interested in the idea. If they refuse to drink cow’s milk no matter what you do, first know that their nutrition and their growth doesn’t need to suffer. There are plenty of toddlers who don’t drink any milk and still meet their nutrition needs. It just takes some extra planning! 

As parents, it’s normal to get nervous when things don’t go according to plan, especially when it comes to feeding our little ones. Keep in mind that, like most things, this is just a phase! I do have some tips that can help you during the process of switching your one-year-old to cow’s milk (even if they’re totally dairy-free and need an alternative).

Cow’s Milk Nutrition

Why do most pediatricians recommend switching to cow’s milk at one-years-old? There are a few reasons:

  1. Calories (which is easy to get in other places, but not ALL types of milk have enough calories)
  2. Protein (also easy to find in other places)
  3. Vitamin D (hard to find in foods, but easy in a supplement)
  4. Calcium (hard to get from non-dairy foods, but not impossible)

How can you add calcium to your one-year-old’s diet when they’re not drinking milk?

Calcium is present in non-dairy foods, but not as much as in dairy foods. If milk is just a no-go, there are still options to help your little one get the calcium they need. Make sure to read to the end for some tips on how to get them to drink milk.

Toddlers, ages one to three, need about 700 milligrams of calcium each day. No, you don’t need to go counting up every single thing. Instead, just remember your little one needs two to three servings of high-calcium foods, either dairy, or non-dairy foods that are fortified with calcium.

What does a serving of high-calcium food look like?

  • One cup of milk (8 ounces)
  • One container (or 6 ounces) or yogurt
  • A grilled cheese sandwich
  • A slice and a half of cheese
  • ½ cup (4 ounces) of fortified orange juice
  • A bowl of fortified cereal (like Cheerios, but check the label…many other brands of O’s don’t have much calcium)
  • Oatmeal with almond butter

What are some other ways you can add dairy when a toddler is refusing cow’s milk?

For one-year-olds that are refusing to make the switch to drinking cow’s milk, you can add milk to other foods they’re eating. You can add cow’s milk in:

  • Smoothies
  • Oatmeal
  • Baking (muffins, breads, baked oatmeal)

Just a reminder, if they’re still drinking from a bottle, it will be harder to get them to drink from a cup. Typically, you will need to wean off of bottles before trying a cup. Don’t worry, there’s another blog coming up on weaning your little one off of their bottles. But in the meantime, check out this instagram post!

What are some ways you can help your one-year-old drink cow’s milk?

Before you throw in the towel with transitioning your toddler to cow’s milk, there are a few things you can try!

My number one recommendation is what I call the milky-water method. It’s going to sound weird, but it works for a lot of kids! Simply put, you’re going to give your little one milky water. Here’s how to do it.

Start with about a quarter cup of milk and three-quarters cup of water. From there, you will slowly increase to half milk and half water, and then three-quarters milk and one-quarter water. Until you get to all milk and no water. I’m serious, it works! The milky water method is what helped my daughter transition to drinking cow’s milk, and she wasn’t originally interested in milk at all.

Some kids like their cow’s milk really cold. If this is the case for your little one, add some ice cubes! That’s an easy way to change it for them. Throw in a fun straw too, and you just might get your little one to start drinking cow’s milk.

Another method to try? I saw Melanie Potock (an SLP and renowned feeding specialist) suggest offering two straw cups at a meal. One has milk, one has water. They will go back and forth from the cups trying to find the water. Make sure the cups are not see-through for this one!

Not sure which cups are best for your toddler? Go check out my favorites here

(Note: as a member of the Amazon Associates program, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

But what if your little one is dairy-free?

I recommend sticking with either soy or pea milk because they’re most nutritionally similar to cow’s milk. The methods above will work for the dairy-free options as well. I do suggest starting with the milky water. If you have any questions on cow’s milk or dairy-free alternatives, go to this post. Specifically concerned about whether soy milk is healthy for kids? Go here.

You’ll need to do some experimenting when it comes to non-dairy cheeses and yogurts. Your little one might prefer one brand over another. Keep in mind that not all of them are going to be fortified with calcium. It’s important to check the labels! 

Calcium-Rich Foods to Incorporate in Your Non-Dairy Child’s Diet

There are other non-dairy foods that you can incorporate into your little one’s diet to help them meet their calcium needs, including:

  • Tofu
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Broccoli
  • Ground flax
  • Almond butter
  • Dried figs
  • Leafy greens

However, those foods aren’t as high in calcium and aren’t likely to give your little one enough if they’re not drinking any milk or non-dairy milk. If that’s the case for your little one, you will want to look into a calcium supplement. This is my favorite calcium supplement for toddlers. Keep in mind this is only needed if your little one isn’t getting two to three servings a day of good high-quality calcium, meaning milk, cheese, yogurt, or something with around 200 milligrams of calcium per serving. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician if there are any questions.

Now, how do you feel about making [healthy] breakfast with your eyes closed?

Any time we are talking about little ones drinking cow’s milk, I always think of breakfast! I don’t know about you, but I typically need some help the mornings I oversleep or feel too tired to get a decent breakfast on the table. 

If you have mornings like that too, I have a brand new breakfast guide that has all of my favorite quick grab-and-go options. If you want to ensure your kids get a nutrition-packed meal on the go, this is the guide for you! I also included allergen-friendly foods, my favorite smoothie recipes, and my go-to recipes. Check it out by clicking here!

5 Comments

LeAnnza · July 12, 2021 at 11:55 pm

Very helpful and just the info I was looking for! Thank you!

Sylvia Harris · August 25, 2021 at 8:56 am

Very informative. My 15mo grandson refuse to drink milk and give up his bottle

Bambilush · August 26, 2021 at 3:28 pm

Same here my son is 14 month old and I tried mixing the formula and milk like my doctor said but it doesn’t work. He refuses to drink , now I tried to give him milk by it self and he refuses it . He only wants to drink the formula the 0-12 months out of the bottle smh…now I’m getting worried. He does Like to drink orange juice though ..I’m thinking of dropping the formula cold turkey..by next month..

Alex · October 8, 2021 at 11:26 pm

I will definitely have to be the parent to just incorporate orange juice I guess…
My daughter has only had mommies milk and always refused a bottle (sounds great, but has its down sides)
She turned one in September and we’ve tried mixing my milk with cows, watery milk, almond milk, and I have been tempted to try toddler formula but to be honest…I don’t want to try that unless I have too. Im hoping she gets what she needs through me still…

Anita · October 14, 2021 at 12:55 pm

Thanks for the info! my daughter just turned 1 and we are having a hard time convincing her to drink milk alternatives. We dropped the bottle cold turkey and replaced everything with sippy cups. Since she has dairy allergy, we tried Soy, Almond, Rice and Oat milks. She will only take water. Grandma is using the alternative milks to make her morning oatmeal now. Trying orange juice next.

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Hi, I’m Kacie!

I’m a mom of two and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I offer e-guides and e-books (go to my Shop page), workshops, brand partnerships, and nutrition counseling. Check out my blog for nutrition and feeding tips for your little ones.

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