Whether it is an infant who is drinking breast milk or an iron fortified baby formula that is based on cow's milk or soy milk, a preschooler drinking chocolate milk, or a teenager drinking low fat milk, milk is an important part of child nutrition. After all, milk even has its own food group.
In addition to providing children with a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to keep kids healthy, milk is especially important to help build and maintain strong bones.
Types of Milk
Although most parents think of cow's milk when they think of milk, there are actually a wide variety of milk and other non-dairy milk drinks that substitute for milk that kids can drink, including:
- whole milk
- reduced fat (2%), low fat (1%) and fat-free or skim cow's milk
- organic milk
- goat's milk
- flavored milk, such as chocolate milk and strawberry milk
- soy milk
- rice milk
- almond milk
- condensed milk
- evaporated milk
- raw milk (experts recommend that children should not drink raw milk though, which is unpasteurized and isn't fortified with extra vitamin D.)
Some people are even drinking hemp milk these days.
Many kids don't drink enough milk, which is unfortunate, because fortified milk is a good source of many important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Milk is usually considered a key part of a healthy diet for kids, as it provides those children with a good source of:
Also, kids who drink milk are not as likely to drink other less nutritious drinks, such as soda and fruit drinks.
Keep in mind that if you are giving your kids a non-dairy milk drink, you should be sure to check the label to make sure it is fortified or enriched with all of these vitamins and minerals.
In general, toddlers should drink whole cow's milk if they don't have a milk allergy after they are 12 months old. They should then switch to reduced fat milk once they are two years old. Overweight toddlers can switch to low-fat milk even earlier though, after their first birthday.
Keep in mind that toddlers who are breastfeeding two to three times a day or who are still drinking a toddler formula don't necessarily also need to drink milk, too.
How much milk do your kids need?
It depends on how old they are, but the the usual recommendations are that children who are:
- 2-8 years old drink 2 cups of milk each day
- 9-18 years old drink 3 cups of milk each day
Of course, if your kids don't drink milk, you can substitute other things from the milk food group, such as cheese and yogurt or other foods high in calcium and vitamin D.
Getting too many calories is a problem for many overweight kids. In addition to getting enough physical activity each day, these children often need to decrease their portion sizes and cut back on some calories.
Eliminating milk because of the worry about the calories in milk is usually not a good idea though. Instead, you should switch your child from whole milk to low-fat or reduced fat milk.
A quick comparison of milk nutrition labels (per 8 ounce serving) shows how many calories your kids will get from drinking each type of milk:
- Whole Milk - 150 Calories - 8g Fat
- 2% Milk - 120 Calories - 4.5g Fat
- 1% Milk - 100 Calories - 2.5g Fat
- Skim Milk - 80 Calories - 0g Fat
If your child has a milk allergy and is truly allergic to milk proteins, then he shouldn't drink milk or eat other dairy products made with milk. These children can develop allergy symptoms, which can range from hives to more severe symptoms, such wheezing, vomiting, diarrhea, or even anaphylaxis.
Children with a true milk allergy should turn to non-dairy food sources to get enough calcium and vitamin D in their diet. They should also avoid all milk and diary products until they hopefully outgrow their milk allergy.
More common than a milk allergy is a lactose intolerance, in which kids can tolerate some milk products, but develop gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and bloating, but only if they drink too many milk products.
Unlike a milk allergy, in which the child has a problem with protein in the milk, even tiny amounts, children with a lactose intolerance have a problem digesting lactose, the sugar in milk. What is surprising to many parents, children with lactose intolerance can usually tolerate some milk products, the amount which depends on your child, so a child may only develop symptoms if he has an extra glass of milk, cheese pizza, or ice cream, etc., but is fine if he has milk with his cereal.
American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Lipid Screening and Cardiovascular Health in Childhood. PEDIATRICS Vol. 122 No. 1 July 2008, pp. 198-208.
United States Department of Agriculture. Inside the Pyramid. Milk. Accessed February 2010. http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/milk.html