Are you wondering: What are the best milk alternatives for toddlers? What non-dairy milk substitute is best for toddlers? Why do toddlers need milk? Can I give my toddler almond milk instead of cow milk?
Here is a breakdown of the benefits of milk for toddlers, why you don’t need to give your toddler milk, and a comparison of the best milk alternatives for toddlers. Pea milk and soy milk are two of the best milk alternatives for your toddler.
There really isn’t a right or wrong answer when it comes to feeding your toddler and what milk (if any) you choose to serve them. Us moms are all in this together! The purpose of this post is to gather and pass on information I have researched, but ultimately everyone can make the best decision for their own family.
Benefits of Milk for Toddlers
Milk (cow’s milk) provides a fairly cheap and easy-to-consume source of calories, protein, fat, calcium & vitamin D. All of which are important for toddler growth and development.
- Calories: Most toddlers need approximately 1000-1400 calories per day, although this can vary by age, size, genetics and other factors and toddlers should never count calories or be on a diet. To get these necessary calories, you should focus on feeding your toddler a wide variety of nutrient dense-foods.
- Protein: Protein is especially important for growth in young children as it is the building block for muscle and help build and restore body tissue.
- Fat: Healthy fats help with brain growth and development and the absorption of important vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E, and K.
- Calcium & Vitamin D: these nutrients are necessary for bone growth and healthy teeth. They also help prevent the disease rickets.
Most nutrition specialists reccomened that toddlers drink milk to help them meet their nutritional requirements for healthy growth and development.
Best toddler milk cup? We love the Munchkin 360 cup! Sippy cups can be bad for oral development, but this is a great trainer cup for an open cup. Shop the Munchkin 360 Cup on Amazon
How Much Is Too Much?
Is there too much of a good things? In the case of milk, yes!
- Milk can hinder the ability of the body to absorb iron, so drinking too much milk can cause iron deficiency.
- Milk can cause cause constipation.
- Drinking too much milk can cause your toddler to fill up and not eat a wide variety of foods and other nutrients.
Try and limit your toddler’s milk intake to 16-24oz per day or about 2-3 cups.
You Don’t Need to Give Milk
Milk can be a convenient source of nutrients, but it should accompany a healthy diet is not a required part of your toddler’s diet.
There are many reasons why your toddler may not drink milk. Perhaps they don’t like it, they have an allergy or are lactose intolerant, or maybe its a personal choice for your family not to drink milk.
What to do if your toddler doesn’t drink milk?
If your toddler doesn’t drink milk there are some steps you can take to supplement their diet for these missing nutrients.
- Consider other sources of dairy like yogurt or cheese. All diary products are high in protein, fat, calcium and vitamin D.
- Focus on serving a wide variety of foods high in these important nutrients:
- Protein: meat, eggs, fish, seeds
- Fats: avocado, peanut butter, nuts
- Calcium & vitamin D: spinach, fortified cereal, beans and lentils
- Talk to your doctor and consider supplements, specifically for calcium and vitamin D.
- Serve a milk alternative
Breakdown of Milk Alternatives for Toddlers
Below is a nutritional breakdown for different types of milk alternatives. This data was gathered based on common brands of these milk alternatives, each listed in their subsequent sub headings under the table. When you are looking in your grocery store you might notice slight variations based on the brand, ingredients, flavoring, and whether they are sweetened or unsweetened, but based on my research this table presents a good average.
|Calories||Protein (g)||Fat (g)||Calcium (mg)||Vitamin D (mcg)|
Pea milk is fairly new to the scene. Thankfully, pea milk doesn’t actually taste like peas. It is made from yellow peas that are milled into the different pea components; protein, fiber, and starch and the protein is what is used to make pea milk. Its a great non-dairy alternative that is often used in non-dairy protein powders.
Comparison: Pea milk is lower in calories and fat than whole milk, but has a similar amount of protein and more calcium and vitamin D. Even though the fat content is nearly half of whole milk, it is one of the highest values for comparable milk alternatives. My personal favorite; pea milk is the best milk alternative for toddlers.
Nutrient profile used: Ripple Original Pea Milk
Soy milk is made from soybeans, which are a common allergen. Additionally, there have been some studies that indicate that soy can cause hormone imbalance, as it contains a plant hormone (phytoestrogen) that is similar to the human hormone estrogen. There are no clear warnings or negative impacts on children, so take this research with a grain of salt.
Comparison: Soy milk is lower in calories and fat than whole milk, but very similar to pea milk. It also has a similar amount of protein and vitamin D compared to whole milk, and more calcium. Overall, soy milk is a good milk alternative for your toddler.
Nutrient profile used: Silk Original Soy Milk
Hemp milk is made from blending hemp seeds and water and is safe to give to your toddler. It is not as widely available as some of the other milk alternatives, and currently I have only been able to find it in shelf-stable containers (this may be different in your part of the world; i’d love to know in the comments!)
Comparison: Hemp milk contains the most calories and fat compared to other milk alternatives and is very similar to whole milk. It does have less protein, calcium, and vitamin D compared to whole milk, pea milk, and soy milk. Overall, hemp milk is a good milk alternative for your toddler.
Nutrient profile used: Pacific Foods Original Hemp Milk
Almond milk is a popular milk alternative for adults, specifically those who are lactose intolerant. Its widely available from multiple different brands and has been on the market for a while. Unfortunately, its not the best pick for toddlers because of the limited nutrients.
Comparison: Almond milk is lower in calories and most notably, lower in protein and fat compared to whole milk and some other milk alternatives. Almond milk is higher in calcium and vitamin D compared to whole milk, but is similar to other milk alternatives. Because of the low amounts of protein and fat, almond milk is not a great milk alternative for your toddler.
Nutrient profile used: Blue Diamond Original Almond Milk
Oat milk is a creamy milk made with ground oats soaked in water and strained. Its very easy to make at home as most people keep oats as a staple in their pantry. Nutritionally, oat milk is similar to almond milk. It is a great low-calorie milk alternative for adults, but has limited nutrients for toddlers.
Comparison: Oat milk is lower in calories, protein, and fat compared to whole milk and some other milk alternatives. It is higher in calcium and similar in vitamin D compared to whole milk. Because of the low amounts of protein and fat, oat milk is not a great milk alternative for your toddler.
Nutrient profile used: Silk Oat Yeah Plain Oat Milk
Coconut milk is my personal favorite milk alternative and is great for breastfeeding moms because coconut is a galactagogue (helps with milk supply). However, out of the multiple brands I reviewed, none had any protein and fat amounts were also low. Note, we are reviewing drinkable coconut milk found in the refrigerated milk section and not cans of coconut milk which are very high in fat.
Comparison: Coconut milk scores poorly in every nutrition category when compared to whole milk and most other milk alternatives. It is lower in calories, protein, fat, calcium and vitamin D compared to whole milk and is a poor milk alternative for your toddler.
Nutrient profile used: So Delicious Coconut Milk Original
Rice milk is not commonly available and I could only find it in the shelf-stable part of the grocery store. It has very limited nutrition when compared to whole milk and other milk alternatives.
Comparison: Rice milk is higher in calories than most other milk alternatives and is similar to whole milk in calories. However, it is much lower in protein, fat, calcium, and vitamin D compared to whole milk and is a poor milk alternative for your toddler.
Nutrient profile used: Rice Dream Original Rice Drink
Cashew milk has a taste similar to almond milk but is a little creamier. It has very limited nutrition when compared to whole milk and is the milk alternative with the least amount of calories (out of multiple brands I reviewed).
Comparison: Cashew milk is lower in calories, protein, and fat than whole milk. It is similar in calcium and vitamin D compared to other milk alternatives. However, because of the low calories, protein and fat, it is a poor milk alternative for your toddler.
Nutrient profile used: Silk Unsweetened Cashew Milk
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