Between ages one and two, your toddler will slowly begin to consume a new diet composed of table foods (rather than strictly breastmilk and/or formula). It makes it crucial to find nutritious whole foods that ensure your child is meeting their nutritional needs to be healthy and strong.
Dairy helps young children meet the caloric needs for growth as well as help to build strong, healthy bones. At one year of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents begin to give their children cow’s milk as a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. It is recommended that parents offer their children two to three servings of dairy per day (16 – 24 ounces of milk) to make sure your child is receiving the right amount of fat, protein, calcium, vitamin D, and calories. That said, it’s important to not exceed that amount of dairy as it can lead to deficiencies in other nutrients (such as iron).
Some children may not drink any milk, and that is fine especially if you are offering your child other dairy-based foods. Of course, cow’s milk is not the only source that offers these nutrients. If your child is allergic to milk protein or simply doesn’t like the taste of cow’s milk, or if you prefer not to give cow’s milk, there are great milk alternatives that you can explore.
Picking the Right Milk Alternative for Your Toddler
As your toddler becomes more active, you want to make sure you meet your child’s growing nutritional needs. Here are the top nutrients to pay attention to when selecting a good cow’s milk alternative for your kiddo.
- Calories. The daily amount of calories toddlers need might vary based on activity level and overall health, but in general, it’s agreed that toddlers need around 1,000-1,400 calories per day. This caloric intake should be spread out over three meals and two snacks daily.
- Fat. The toddler diet should be composed of nearly 50% fat in order for their body and brain to develop properly. Keep in mind that not all fats are created equal. Healthier fats include nuts, plants, lean meats, avocados, olive oil, and of course whole milk.
- Protein. Protein helps your body absorb nutrients and maintain muscles, bones, and organs. Some milk types offer a relatively high amount of protein, and if your child is consuming 2-3 servings daily, that might be all the protein that is needed for proper toddler nutrition.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D supports a healthy immune system as well as helps to keep strong bones and teeth. The AAP suggests that toddlers need around 400 to 600 IU daily.
- Calcium. Most children between the ages of 1 and 3 need around 700 mg of calcium per day to support the development of their bones, teeth, and bodies. This is equivalent to about 2 servings of cow’s milk per day.
There is an abundance of cow’s milk alternatives out there, and choosing the right one for your family might take some trial and error. In general, it’s good to use one that supplies your child with the most nutrients that are more difficult to complement otherwise. For example, if the protein is really difficult for your child to consume regularly at the dinner table, perhaps choosing protein-dense milk is a wise decision.
Please make sure to ask your pediatrician about which milk alternative might be good for your toddler if you are uncertain or have questions.
Related: 40+ Best Finger Foods for Babies
Looking for Cow’s Milk Alternatives? Consider These!
Whether your child is lactose intolerant or you simply want to avoid cow’s milk, there are plenty of alternatives on the market. In general, the AAP states that milk alternatives will contain fewer calories and protein than cow’s milk. However, many of these milk alternatives are fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and some even add protein.
Before you write off cow’s milk entirely, you may want to consider trying A2 cow’s milk, which is a slightly gentler form of cow’s milk. It contains only the A2 type of beta-casein, whereas regular cow’s milk contains both A1 and A2 types. This can be easier to digest for some individuals.
Otherwise, if you’re ready to embark on finding a cow’s milk alternative for your little one, here are some good options for you to consider. This list includes animal milks such as goat milk and camel milk, as well as non-dairy, plant-based milks.
The main downside to most of the plant-based milk beverages is that they are made with a lot of other ingredients. That’s definitely something to consider when choosing a milk or dairy-free beverage for your little one. Be sure to read labels and choose wisely!
Goat milk is a nutrient-dense option for growing kids because it provides calories, fats, and protein. Goat’s milk is easily digestible and good for children that might be sensitive to cow’s milk (but not if they are actually allergic). It contains around ten grams of fat per eight ounces of milk compared to eight or nine grams in cow’s milk. This said goat milk does lack some nutrients such as folate, iron, and vitamin D.
You can introduce straight goat’s milk or you can use a toddler milk formula such as Kabrita.
- Pros: Goat milk contains high levels of fats, calories, and protein, which makes it great for children. It’s also gentle on little tummies, easy to digest, and has that creamy texture that children love.
- Cons: It’s not recommended for children with a confirmed cow milk protein allergy. It also lacks folate, iron, and vitamin D, so you have to find other foods to incorporate those important nutrients into your child’s diet.
Buy on Amazon
Made in the USA, this powdered formula contains great levels of fats, calories, and protein. This is great milk for on the go since it is powdered (and you add water when ready to use). It is grass-fed and non-GMO, and a brand that many of my readers love.
Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds and is often described by others as having a bit of a unique nut flavor.
This shelf-stable milk is free of soy, nuts, and gluten; low in calories, protein, and carbohydrates; and it contains a high amount of essential fatty acids, including omega-3, which is essential for brain development. Additionally, it has more iron than cow’s milk, so if your child has anemia, hemp milk might be a good fit. Surprisingly, hemp milk has more fat than any other plant-based milk alternatives. Note that if you purchase fortified hemp milk, it is likely to have more calcium than cow’s milk (450mg! or 45% of your total daily recommended allowance
- Pros: Hemp milk is high in essential fatty acids, which are essential for brain development.
- Cons: Hemp milk can be low in calories, carbohydrates, and protein. It’s also a little pricey.
Buy on Amazon
Goodmylk’s organic hemp milk concentrate allows you to make your own hemp milk at home, using clean ingredients (only hemp seeds and medjool dates, if you buy the sweetened one). If you’re open to mixing your hemp milk at home (bottle is included), this is a great option because it doesn’t contain additives or inflammatory oils like other brands. If you’d prefer something pre-mixed, try this brand.
If your kiddo has some digestion issues, oat milk might have the fiber that you need to help solve some toddler tummy woes. It also has a mild taste compared to hemp milk, which might be more palatable to your toddler.
When comparing plant-based milk alternatives, oat milk has the most calories, roughly equal to 2% reduced-fat cow’s milk. The downside is that oat milk is lower in fats and doesn’t have high levels of protein.
- Pros: Oat milk is high in fiber and carbohydrates.
- Cons: With both low protein and fat content, it might not really fill your toddler up.
Buy on Amazon
This oat milk is USDA-certified organic. This milk can be found at many local grocery stores. The company also states that this is high in calcium and vitamin D (enriched). As with most oat milk, the texture is very creamy for those of you who want the dairy-like texture your toddler might enjoy.
If you are looking for an alternative, here is another brand to try; however, both brands contain sunflower oil and I’m not crazy about that. Sunflower oil is quite inflammatory so I would probably stay away.
Almond milk is very popular and offers a variety of flavors, sweetened and unsweetened. As you might guess, almond milk is simply made from ground almonds and water (and sweetener if you desire). While high in calcium and vitamin E, it is both low in protein and fat.
- Pros: High in calcium and vitamin E.
- Cons: Low in protein and fat. Almond milk also contains phytic acid, which can delay mineral absorption.
Buy on Amazon
I chose this almond milk because it offers protein, which isn’t very common among other brands of almond milk. This is protein-dense almond milk (about 10 grams per cup), and it’s made from organic brown rice protein and organic pea protein. It is slightly sweetened and has a vanilla taste to it.
Never heard of camel milk? Most people haven’t, but it is said that it closely resembles the mother’s breastmilk. While the jury is still out on this one, early studies show that it’s actually quite nutritious: it offers support for the gut, brain, and immune system. That said more clinical trials are needed for complete consensus on its value for children specifically.
Camel milk does have a distinctive flavor that’s slightly salty but still refreshing and filling. It contains a decent amount of fats and calories per serving. Camel milk is high in carbohydrates and has a great amount of protein per serving as well. It also is a great source of unsaturated fats, close to cow’s milk.
One thing to consider is that you can’t walk into your local store and find camel milk. You’ll have to order it online, and it’s not cheap. However, many people say the health benefits are worth it.
- Pros: Supports gut and immune health. It’s also high in carbohydrates and calories. Good amount of protein and fats.
- Cons: Camel milk can only be purchased online and it’s a bit expensive. Some children also do not like the taste of it.
Desert Farms is a farm with a 6 camel herd in the USA. They bottle and package all of their camel milk and ship it directly to you. They offer a few different versions of camel milk– raw, pasteurized, frozen, fresh, and powdered. I always recommend pasteurized milk and personally found the camel milk powder easiest to introduce.
Cashew milk is newer on the scene of milk alternatives. It’s nut-based milk that’s rich in magnesium and potassium. Because it comes from nuts, cashew milk is also high in omega-3 fatty acids and carbohydrates. But, like most plant-based milk, cashew milk is deficient in a couple of key nutrients for toddlers such as low calories and protein (2-5 grams).
- Pros: Cashew milk has a great taste that kids love. It’s also high in carbohydrates and a good source of omega-3.
- Cons: It’s low in calories and protein, two things that are crucial to a toddler’s diet.
Buy on Amazon
This cashew milk is a mainstream brand and you can find it in most grocery stores. It is only about 25 calories per serving, but it does have about 50% more calcium than cow’s milk, so it’s a great source of calcium as well as vitamin D and E.
Another great shelf-stable milk alternative is rice milk. Rice milk is created from boiled rice, brown rice syrup, and brown rice starch. It’s quickly become a popular alternative to cow’s milk because it’s the most hypoallergenic of all milk alternatives.
This is a good milk for those that are allergic to cow’s milk and also might be sensitive to other types of milk proteins. Rice milk contains a high amount of calories when compared to cow’s milk (about 120 calories). Unfortunately, it’s both a low-fat, low-protein, and low-calcium choice.
Some people also struggle to switch over to rice milk because it doesn’t offer the same creamy texture as dairy milk. I personally was ok using rice milk in my cereal, but agree that it is pretty thin.
Another concern with using rice milk is arsenic levels. If you give rice milk, I wouldn’t give it daily for this reason.
- Pros: Rice milk is hypoallergenic, rich in carbohydrates, and provides plenty of calories.
- Cons: It’s low in fat, protein, and calcium. The texture is also not nearly as creamy as dairy milk. Rice is often high in arsenic — concerning.
Buy on Amazon
This rice milk is made from organic brown rice. This rice milk is enriched so it has high levels of vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Most reviewers love the light and fresh taste.
Coconut milk comes from a grated and pulped coconut. It is great for those with allergies as it is both soy and gluten-free. It’s a great source of vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Not surprisingly, it has a high amount of saturated fats (and all the wonderful creaminess that comes with that!).
Unfortunately, it does have some drawbacks. Its fat content does not yield a proportional amount of protein and calcium, so if you do use this milk for your toddler, you will want to find other foods that are high in protein and calcium to avoid any nutritional deficiencies.
- Pros: Coconut milk is high in saturated fats, vitamin D, and B12. It also has a great, creamy texture.
- Cons: It does not contain any protein or calcium, so it definitely doesn’t have the same nutritional value of dairy milk.
Buy on Amazon
Made from organic coconuts, this coconut milk seems to have a good balance for coconut milk. It has around 45 calories per serving and 4.5 grams of fat per serving. It also is completely free of sugar. This coconut milk also has a great creamy texture to it if comparing to some of the other milk alternatives.
Pea Protein Milk
Pea protein milk contains the most protein of any of the other plant-based milk. It’s actually very close to cow’s milk coming in at 8 grams. It also has a lower amount of sugar, more calcium, and a good amount of omega-3. The main drawbacks are that this has a lower amount of calories per cup (around 75 grams of unsweetened pea milk), and pea protein can be rather hard to digest.
- Pros: Pea protein milk has a great taste and is high in protein and calcium. It’s also a good source of omega-3.
- Cons: Low in calories. Can be hard to digest.
Buy on Amazon
This pea milk is one of many flavors you can choose from made by Ripple Foods. They have a high protein value (8 grams, so they have the right to do so!) as well as a high amount of calcium and vitamin D. The original unsweetened version is without sugar and has a nice, creamy texture to it. I love the flavor and relied on Ripple Milk a lot when I was on a dairy-free breastfeeding journey; my main complaint is that Ripple Milk contains so many gums and added ingredients.
It’s not my personal choice for a child, but many kids seem to do well on it.
Final Thoughts on Cow’s Milk Alternatives
I hope this list of milk alternatives is helpful! I know that many parents struggle to figure out which milk type will work the best for their toddler’s diet and taste. So, try a few and see what works!
I would personally start with goat milk and go down the list from there. Remember that each milk type is truly unique both in its texture/taste and its nutritional values. Try to find one or two that you think are a good fit in terms of their nutritional content and see if your kiddo likes them. Make sure to add in other healthy table foods to fill in nutritional gaps. Enjoy!
What milk alternative does your toddler enjoy? I’d love to know!