Milk Alternatives For Toddlers: A Complete Guide

Milk Alternatives for Toddlers

During the first year of your baby’s life, 100% of their nutrient needs can be met from baby formula or breast milk. For those of us mommas who have relied on expensive infant formula month in and month out, it can come as both an excitement and relief to transition to cow’s milk.

But, what happens when your toddler cannot have cow’s milk? Many infants and toddlers require a dairy-free milk alternative. Cow’s milk allergy is the most common allergy among young children and babies. An estimated 2.5% of children under the age of three have a milk allergy.  

In some cases, for good reason, families choose to avoid it. This could be due to health concerns, following a plant-based diet, or simply not like the taste of it. 

Thankfully, for us mommas who are worried, there are dairy-free milk alternatives for toddlers to replace cow’s milk that are just as nutritious and can be found on the dairy aisle at your local grocery store. In this article, we’ll discuss the best milk alternatives for toddlers and help you decide which one is best for your growing toddler.

Cow's Milk Allergy

Lactose Intolerance VS Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy

A lactose intolerance or sensitivity results when the body cannot break down lactose, the sugar in milk. In contrast, a cow’s milk protein allergy is a reaction by the immune system to a protein found in milk.

If your child has a sensitivity to lactose, low-lactose milk such as goat’s milk may be a good alternative and provide a very similar nutrient composition as dairy products. However, if your child has a true milk protein allergy, goat’s milk will likely be of no benefit to your child.

Nutrient Composition Of Whole Cow’s Milk

  • Calories: 149
  • Fat: 8 grams
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Carbs: 12 grams
  • Calcium: 276 milligrams
  • Iron: .07 milligrams
  • Vit D: 128 IU

Cow’s milk is frequently recommended by pediatricians in our growing little one’s diet because it can deliver fat, protein, and other nutrients essential for normal growth and development. Nutrients in milk such as vit D, calcium, and vitamin A promote a healthy immune system, strong bones, and support healthy brain development. In fact, research shows that children who do not drink cow’s milk are more prone to short stature, and suboptimal bone health. 

These are just some of the reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children continue to drink whole milk until the age of two. Now, let’s discuss a few cow’s milk alternatives and their nutrient compositions.

5 Types Of Milk Alternatives For Toddlers With Nutrient Composition

The Best Milk Alternatives For Toddlers That Are Dairy Free

Many cow’s milk alternatives are lower in fat, protein, and other vitamins like B12, vitamin D, and calcium than cow’s milk. You’ll want to introduce each of them separately a few days apart to ensure your child doesn’t have an allergic reaction to any of the alternatives. 

Here are a few of the best milk alternatives for toddlers

  • Soy Milk
  • Rice Milk
  • Almond Milk
  • Oat Milk
  • Coconut Milk
  • Hemp Milk

Nutrient Composition of Dairy Free Milk Alternatives For Toddlers

Soy Milk

  • Calories: 105
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Carbs: 12 grams
  • Calcium: 300 milligrams
  • Iron: 1.02 milligrams
  • Vit D: 108 IU

Soy milk is one of the top alternatives recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics. It is one of the most popular plant-based milks made from soybeans and has a similar composition to cow’s milk. 

Most brands of soy milk also come fortified with vitamin d and calcium. If your child is allergic to cow’s milk, they may also be at high risk for a soy allergy as well. And, of course, if your child has an established soy allergy, this one can be crossed off of your list.

Rice Milk

  • Calories: 115
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Protein: 0.7 grams
  • Carbs: 22 grams
  • Calcium: 288 milligrams
  • Iron: 0.49 milligrams
  • Vit D: 96 IU

Rice milk is a plant-based, dairy free milk—you guessed it—made from rice! If you look at the nutrient profile of rice milk, it has significantly less protein, fat, calcium, and vitamin d than other alternative milks. Rice milk also usually contains more added sugar than other products. 

However, if your child follows a vegan diet, or has an allergy to both soy and cow’s milk, you may find your child enjoys drinking rice milk. Keep in mind, be sure your child’s diet includes adequate protein and sources of healthy fats to meet their daily needs. Consider choosing one of the unsweetened versions of rice milk that has been fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Almond Milk

  • Calories: 37
  • Fat: 3 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 1 gram
  • Calcium: 481 milligrams
  • Iron: 0.85 milligrams
  • Vit D: 96 IU

Almond milk, similar to rice milk, is pretty low in fat and protein  and dairy free. Its fat content is comparable to that of 1% low-fat milk. However, it does pack in a lot of calcium in one serving. If your toddler has a nut allergy, almond milk or any other type of nut milk can be crossed off of the list. When choosing almond milk, be sure to pick an unsweetened version fortified with vitamins and minerals. 

Oat Milk

  • Calories: 130
  • Fat: 2.5 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Carbs: 24 grams
  • Calcium: 350 milligrams
  • Iron: 1.8 milligrams
  • Vit D: 100 IU

Similar to other plant-based milks, oat milk is commonly fortified with calcium and vitamin D. As you can see, it contains quite a bit less protein compared to cow’s milk but is high in calories, calcium, and vitamin D. 

If your toddler has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, be sure to choose a gluten-free brand! Oat milk is a good alternative to cow’s milk because it has a rich, sweet flavor similar to cow’s milk, unlike many other alternatives.

Coconut Milk

  • Calories: 76
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Protein: 0.5 grams
  • Carbs: 7 grams
  • Calcium: 459 milligrams
  • Iron: 0.73 milligrams
  • Vit D: 96 IU

Coconut milk is a good dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk since it is high in calcium, vitamin D, and iron. However, it may not be something you’d let your toddler drink regularly. It has a bit more saturated fat (5 grams per serving) than cow’s milk (4.5 grams per serving). It’s also very low in protein.

If you choose to give your toddler this alternative, be sure they are getting enough protein daily.

Hemp Milk

  • Calories: 80
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Carbs: 1 gram
  • Calcium: 300 milligrams
  • Iron: 1.8 milligrams
  • Vit D: 100 IU

Hemp has a higher amount of fat compared to many plant-based, dairy free alternatives. However, it falls short when it comes to protein and carbohydrates compared to cow milk. 

Soy Milk

So, what is the best milk alternative for toddlers?

Ultimately, the choice is up to you to make. Soy milk is going to be the closest in nutrient composition to that of whole cow’s milk. However, it’s important to remember that not all milk alternatives will appeal to your toddler’s tiny taste buds. The best cow’s milk alternative is one that works for you and your family and is appealing to your little one. 

Many of the choices have added sugar, so it would be beneficial to go with a sugar-free brand. You’ll also come across toddler formula formulated with optimal nutrition for toddlers who can’t or won’t drink milk. Most of the time, buying a toddler-specific formula isn’t necessary as long as your child gets a balanced diet. 

Regardless of the amount of infant formula or breast milk your child consumed before the age of one, your toddler should drink no more than 2-3 cups of dairy milks or non dairy milk each day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this can be satisfied with both milk and fortified milk alternatives. 

How Much Calcium and Vitamin D Should My Toddler Get?

The exact amount of these nutrients your child should get per day varies based on age. Generally, children between the ages of one and three should get at least 700 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin d per day.

Best Milk Alternatives for Toddlers

Consult With Your Child’s Pediatrician

If you have any questions regarding your child being allergic to cow’s milk, how much milk they should drink, or the best milk alternatives for toddlers, you should always speak with your child’s pediatrician/or pediatric nutritionist or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

Final Word

As times have evolved, the demand for dairy-free milk alternatives for toddlers continues to increase. Regardless of your reasoning for wanting cow’s milk alternatives for your toddler, there are more options than ever available for you. In short, soy milk is going to be the best dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk, but may not fit in your lifestyle. If soy formulas are not medically appropriate for your child, you should always go with a milk free of excess sugar that has been fortified with vitamin D and calcium to help babies and toddlers thrive. 

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