Q: My child only wants milk all the time, and I’m worried she isn’t meeting her nutrition needs. How can I get her to drink less milk and include other foods?
The “dairy godmother” has filled milk and dairy products such as yogurt or kefir with an abundance of calcium and vitamin D, nutrients necessary for toddlers to build strong bones. For youngsters under 2 years old, opt for whole milk since it provides the dietary fats needed for normal growth and proper brain development. Or experiment with whole milk kefir, which offers a tangy taste and an excellent source of probiotics to help establish healthy gut bacteria. This fermented milk has a similar taste to plain Greek yogurt. If they don’t like the taste after a few tries, try adding a splash of pomegranate juice for an antioxidant-rich flavor boost.
If you choose plant-based milk, find a fortified formulation with a similar nutrient profile to cow’s milk. When your child turns 2, swap out the whole milk for low-fat or nonfat milk, or low-fat or nonfat kefir since they no longer need as much fat in their diet.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children can begin drinking cow’s milk at 1 year of age. Here is a breakdown of how much milk children should drink based on age:
- 6–12 months: breast milk or formula
- 12–24 months: 16–24 oz/day (2–3 cups/day)
- 2–5 years: 16–20 oz/day (2–2.5 cups/day)
The Problem with Overconsumption
While milk is beneficial for a growing toddler, there can be “too much of a good thing.” One of the major issues associated with overconsumption of milk is that the calcium content can decrease iron absorption in the body. This can lead to iron deficiency anemia and contribute to developmental delays and poor growth.
Although your child may find milk “udderly” irresistible, consuming more than the recommended amount of milk may pump the brakes on early development. For instance, it may cause your little one to progress toward solid foods at a much slower rate. Drinking excess milk can leave little room for nutrient-dense solid foods that are critical for your child’s health and continued development. Plus, if your little one gets satiated from drinking several cups of milk, they might not be willing to try the new textures or flavors associated with solid foods.
In addition to paying attention to what your child is drinking, consider how they are drinking. At around 6 months, some children can begin using cups. But don’t fret if your child isn’t ready for a few more weeks or months; just keep trying with a small amount of water. Sippy cups can prevent your child from learning to use a real cup and increase tooth decay risk. If you choose a sippy cup, opt for one without a spout that seals when your child isn’t drinking. Or choose a spoutless cup with two handles that’s weighted to help prevent spills. Switching from a bottle to a cup may also help reduce intake for a child who is taking in excess milk.
Strategies for Reducing Excess Milk Consumption
While milk plays an essential role in growth and development, its consumption can’t be at the expense of a nutritionally balanced diet. Check out these must-try tips for reducing your child’s milk intake.
Stick to meal and snack time. Offer milk during or after your child has already eaten his or her food since they will be full of the food and will likely drink less milk.
Slow it down. Gradually decrease the amount of milk that you serve your child; start with reducing the amount of milk by half an ounce at a time until you’re serving the desired amount.
Add a familiar favorite. Your child may over consume milk because it is a familiar and comforting food. Make a milkshake—add in some other food your child likes with milk, such as berries or oatmeal. They can gradually become accustomed to eating food with different tastes and textures. With careful supervision, they can drop the ingredients into the unplugged blender.
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Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE, is a registered dietitian and founder of superkidsnutrition.com, the first kids’ nutrition expert website, and creator of the Super Crew®, who get their powers from healthy colorful foods. Check out her books for kids and families: Healthy Eating for Families, the Ultimate Guide for Kids, Parents, and Educators, the Super Crew’s Breakfast Cookbook for Kids, 50 Tasty Recipes, and 100+ Fun Nutrition Activities, and her Plant-Based Boost books for adults. Melissa spoke at this year’s Beyond the Lunchbox about “Using Parenting Styles to Make Fun and Tasty Plant-Based Meals for Kids.”