Milk and other dairy products provide a great source of calcium, vitamin D, protein, magnesium and other important nutrients in your child’s diet. Many children love their dairy and have no problem eating and drinking the required amount. Sometimes, however, children eat too much dairy while others refuse it completely. Both cases may lead to nutritional problems and warrant attention of a specialist.
Children under 1 year of age should not be served cow’s milk. Breast milk or iron-fortified formula are more appropriate for them.
Children from 1 to 2 years of age can be breastfed or served full fat cow’s milk or formula.
Children older than 2 can be transitioned to 1% or skim milk.
Recommended daily amount of ALL dairy products for children 2-8 years old – only 2 servings a day.
1 serving of dairy foods = 8 oz milk, 8 oz yogurt, 2 oz cheese, ½ cup ice cream.
Dairy foods are an important source of calories and nutrients. However, too much dairy can displace other important foods from the diet and even lead to iron deficiency if consumed in excess.
In Western diet, dairy is the main source of calcium, with each serving providing between 250 and 400mg of this important nutrient. However, there are many non-dairy foods providing a good amount of calcium, such as:
- fortified ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, 1oz – between 300 and 1000mg
- leafy greens, 1/2 cup cooked – around 150mg
- beans and peas, 1/2 cup, cooked – around 100mg
- canned sardines with bones, 3oz – 325mg
- fortified tofu, 1/2 cup – 253mg
- fortified orange juice – around 350mg
- fortified soy milk and other milk substitutes – around 350mg.
- For other non-dairy sources of calcium, check this article.
If your child eats too much dairy. Children who overconsume dairy tend to eat less of other foods and be finicky about their food choices. They may fill up on milk between meals, request yogurt for snack and refuse meat of veggies at dinner time. It is recommended to gradually “wean” your child off snacking on dairy foods all the time. Milk is not a snack, it is very filling and may prevent your child from eating good meals. In general, it is important not to allow children fill up on drinks such as milk or juice between meals and serve them at mealtimes instead, while keeping a strict structure in meals and snacks, following the division of responsibility in feeding. Remember, children between 2 and 8 years of age need only two servings of dairy daily.
If your child refuses milk but eats other dairy foods. If your child eats foods like yogurt, cheese and ice cream, she should be getting all the required nutrients from them. Refer here for a complete guide of serving sizes for dairy foods.
If your child does not eat dairy. If your child is not allergic to dairy foods, try fortifying meals with evaporated milk or powdered milk. They can be added to recipes for baked goods, pureed soups or desserts. If your child is allergic to dairy or vegan, include other calcium and vitamin D-rich foods such as fortified soy milk or orange juice and include more of the non-dairy sources of calcium listed above. If your child is lactose-intolerant she may be able to tolerate lactose-free milk and fermented dairy products such as aged cheeses and yogurt.