Is Your Toddler Eating the Right Amount of Dairy?

Dairy Recommendations for Toddlers

“More milk?” If you have a toddler, you may have heard this question a few times. We all know that milk, which is an excellent source of calcium, is important for their growing bodies. But have you ever wondered how much is too much? Or if they’re getting enough? Let’s take a look at what your toddler really needs and how they can reach their calcium goals.

First off, let’s look into milk’s nutritional profile, what’s in it and why it’s great!

One eight-ounce cup of whole milk contains approximately 150 calories, 8 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates. It also contains approximately 300 milligrams of calcium, almost 250 grams of phosphorus, and over 350 grams of potassium. These are important building blocks of health bodies and specifically healthy bones.

But why whole milk? Children under the age of 2 need the additional fat to support their rapid brain development. After the age of 2, it is usually recommended to switch to a lower fat milk because their nutritional needs no longer require as high of fat concentrations.

But the health benefits of milk aren’t in question, the real question is how much should your toddler get on average every day. Here’s the recommendation: 

  • 2 cups of milk for children 1 to 3 years
  • 2.5 cups for children 4 to 8 years
  • 3 cups for those 9 years and older

Maybe that seems like more or less than your child is drinking, but remember that nutrition is an average.

If there are days when your toddler drinks more and days they drink less, they are probably getting about the right amount of calcium to build strong bones. 

But the calcium those 2 cups of milk provide don’t need to come only from milk. There are many other foods that are good sources of calcium. Here’s a quick list of how other foods stack up to milk.

(Equivalents based on calcium content; 1 cup of milk contains approximately 300 milligrams of calcium.)

1 cup of milk   = 1 cup (8 oz) yogurt

                        = 1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice

                        = 1 cup calcium-fortified soy, rice, or almond milk

3/4 cup of milk= 1 oz cheddar, jack, or Swiss cheese

1/2 cup milk    = 2 oz canned salmon (with bones)

                        = 1/2 cup custard of milk pudding

                        = 1/2 cup cooked greens (mustard, collards, kale)

1/4 cup milk    = 1/2 cup cottage cheese

                        = 1/2 cup ice cream

                        = 3/4 cup dried beans, cooked or canned

This means that the calcium-fortified orange juice, yogurt, cheese, cooked greens and dried beans your child had during the day all contributed to the total amount of calcium they got during the day. 

However, some children far surpass the recommendation and regularly drink more milk than they should. The concern with drinking too much milk lies in the fact that they may be missing out on other key nutrients.

Children are often good at eating to hunger, or eating as many calories as their bodies need and no more. When they fill up on milk, they aren’t hungry for other nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and iron-rich foods.

One of the main concerns when toddlers drink too much milk is iron deficiency anemia. Milk is naturally low in iron and inhibits the absorption of iron. And since the typical toddler diet is low in iron-rich foods, the foods they are eating don’t make up it. Iron deficiency anemia is linked to poor cognitive performance and delayed psychomotor development. So it is important to their growth and development to regulate the amount of milk your toddler is consuming.

Here are a few tips to help curb the milk overload:

  • Encourage drinking milk from a cup if bottle or sippy cups are still used.
  • Save milk for mealtimes. Offer water with snacks or if thirsty between meals.
  • Limit to one serving during meals and offer water as seconds.

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