If there was a topic I was asked about most often, it would be milk for kids. And especially milk for kids who have allergies or intolerances. As a mum who has been there I wholeheartedly understand how confusing and stressful it can be to navigate.
So let's break it down.
To keep it simple, from 12 months of age there are six main options (in no particular order):
- Human milk
- Suitable infant formula
- Full cream cow’s milk (may offer low fat from 2 years)
- Fortified soy milk
- A food-focused approach
- Alternative 'milks' with nutritional supervision/support
You can learn more about the options in this article I wrote about milk for babies and toddlers, but today let's deep dive into plant based milks for kids.
ARE PLANT BASED MILKS SUITABLE FOR KIDS?
The question I often receive, especially from parents of children who can not (for whatever reason) consume cow's milk is “but what about the almond/rice/oat/coconut/macadamia/(insert plant) mylk I drink, couldn’t I just give this to my child?”
Here’s the thing…
These mylks are great alternatives for adults and older children who eat a balanced diet. But for rapidly growing kids 1-5 yrs (and especially 1-2 yrs), we proceed with a little more caution.
Because for most kids, milk is a big source of nutrition AND a big tummy filler. If we fill their little bellies with low-energy, unfortified mylks we run the (very real) risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Let's break it down further by comparing plant based milk nutrition.
|approx. per 100ml||Protein||Fat||Calcium|
|Cow's milk (full cream)||3.6g||3.8g||128mg|
|Cow's milk (low fat)||3.4g||1.3g||122mg|
|Soy milk (fortified)||3g||3.8g||120mg*|
|Oat milk (fortified)||0.6g||2.1g||120mg*|
|Almond milk (fortified)||0.6g||1.4g||120mg*|
Note, nutrition may vary between brands.
*For ease of comparison I've included only fortified milks above, but note that not all plant based milks are fortified with calcium.
Fortified means calcium (and possibly other nutrients) have been added to a plant based milk. When selecting plant based milks we want to look for at least 120mg calcium per 100ml.
As you can see, full fat cow’s milk and fortified soy milk are not just sources of calcium. They are also significant sources of protein and fat (and B12 for cow’s milk). When we are looking for an alternative to cow's milk we want to aim for a nutrition profile as similar to cow's milk as possible.
Some milks such as oat *may* be recommended when alternatives like soy are not suitable, but the nutrient gaps need to be filled elsewhere which is why nutritional supervision is recommended.
How much milk is too much milk?
From 12 months of age the guideline is to cap milk intake (as a drink), regardless of kind, at 500ml per day unless otherwise advised, to ensure other nutrients and food groups are not displaced.
Can I still use my preferred plant based milk in baking/cooking?
YES! While most plant based milks are not a suitable replacement for cow's milk as a drink for children aged 1-5 years, provided there are no allergies they are fine to use in baking or cooking.
What if my child just doesn't like to drink (any) milk?
From 12 months of age and for children who are eating sufficient food from the five food groups, the 'milk and/or their alternatives' food group may be met via food alone. You can read more about a food-focused approach here.
So if my child can't have cow's milk or soy milk, what do I do?
If from 12 months options such as cow’s milk or fortified soy milk are not suitable for your child for whatever reason, don’t panic! You still have options.
We just (strongly) suggest you run through these options with a nutritionist or dietician who can review your child’s overall diet and help you fill in any gaps.
Here's what you can do:
- Review options available to you, based on your budget and accessibility.
- Take photos of the nutritional panel of brands you have access to.
- Take these details along to your health care provider for review and remain open to suggestions.
- Seek out a nutritionist or dietician to ensure there are no significant gaps in your child's diet.
Still feeling overwhelmed? Book a 1:1 nutrition consult with me (BScPsycHons and Family Nutritionist) OR join my online program and receive our Nutrition in Detail guide covering this and so much more for free.
I hope this post helps you to understand the ‘why’ behind the recommendations.
Nutrient Reference Values, calcium, 2014.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Australian Food Composition Database - calcium.
Eat for Health, Aus Dietary Guid, 2013.
E Whitney, SR Rolfes, T Crow, A Walsh. Understanding Nutrition, Australia, 4th edn., 2019.
NHMRC, Inf Feed Guide Info HCW, 2012.
This guide is for inspiration and educational purposes only. Always check with your doctor or dietician first before making any changes to your or your child’s diet or physical activity. The ideas, information and suggestions in this guide are purely those of the author and are not substitutes for consulting with your personal health care provider. The author will not accept responsibility for any action, or claim, resulting from the use of information contained in this guide. We are all unique, what may work for one individual may not for another. Consulting with an expert can help you customise recommendations. If you are worried about your child’s nutritional intake, health or wellbeing please consult with your chosen health care provider.