You wouldn’t think that the idea that kids should drink milk would be controversial.
Of course, it is…
The controversy is more over the type of milk now and not so much over the amounts though.
Few people disagree with the American Academy of Pediatrics 2014 clinical report on Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents, in which they recommended that “Children 4 through 8 years of age require 2 to 3 servings of dairy products or equivalent per day. Adolescents require 4 servings per day.”
Which Kind of Milk You Got?
While you used to have to go to Whole Foods to get soy milk, nearly every grocery store now has every type of “milk” you can think of, and some you haven’t.
So in addition to raw milk and pasteurized cow’s milk, it is possible to buy:
- almond milk
- cashew milk
- coconut milk
- flax milk (flax seeds)
- goat milk
- hazelnut milk
- hemp milk
- lactose free milk (cow’s milk without lactose)
- oat milk
- potato milk (as powdered milk)
- quinoa milk
- rice milk
- ripple milk (peas)
- 7 grain milk (Oats, Brown Rice, Wheat, Barley, Triticale, Spelt and Millet)
- soy milk
- sprouted rice milk
Complicating matters even more, once you decide on the type of milk to give your kids, you will have a lot of other options to choose from – organic, hormone free, sweetened vs unsweeted, enriched vs original, and a long list of flavors, etc.
The question is no longer simply Got Milk?
Best Milk for Kids
So which milk is best for your kids?
While each type of milk has its fans, in general, unless your child has food allergies or intolerances, the best milk is going to be the one you can afford, with the nutrients your child needs, and most importantly, which he is going to drink.
What about the idea or argument that cow’s milk is made for baby cows?
Following that logic, if you weren’t going to give your kids cow’s milk, then you probably wouldn’t give them most plant based milks, as they are commonly made from seeds. Almonds, peas, and soybeans, etc., aren’t “made” to make milk. They are produced to make more plants. But just like we pasteurize and fortify cow’s milk so that we can consume it, we have learned to use these other foods.
Best Milk for Kids with Food Allergies
While the wide availability of so many different types of milk is confusing for many parents, it has been great for pediatricians and parents of kids with food allergies and intolerances. Having more of a variety has also been helpful for vegan families.
In general, you should breastfeed or give your infant an iron fortified formula until they are at least 12 months old, avoiding milk or other allergy foods as indicated if you are breastfeeding and your child develops an allergy to that food, or switching to a hypoallergenic or elemental formula if your child develops a formula allergy.
And then, after your toddler is old enough to wean from breastmilk or formula, you:
- should avoid cow’s milk, lactose-free cow’s milk, and goat milk if your child has a milk protein allergy
- should avoid almond, cashew, coconut, and hazelnut milk if your child has a nut allergy (yes, even though almonds and coconuts are really stone fruits and not true nuts, they have been rarely known to cross react and trigger allergic reactions)
- should avoid soy milk if your child has a soy allergy
- should make sure your child’s milk is fortified with calcium and vitamin D
Most importantly, talk to your pediatrician and/or a pediatric allergist before switching to a plant based milk if your child has food allergies and before trying to switch back to cow’s milk after you think they have outgrown their allergy.
Other Things to Know About Kids Drinking Milk
Kids don’t necessarily need to drink any kind of milk.
They do need the nutrients that you commonly get from milk, including fat, protein, calcium, and vitamin D, etc.
You should also know that:
- the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that most toddlers drink whole milk until they are two years old, when they should switch to reduced fat milk.
- switching to reduced fat milk can be appropriate for some toddlers who are already overweight or if their pediatrician is concerned about their becoming overweight or about their cholesterol, etc.
- most cow’s milk that you buy in your grocery store doesn’t have any added growth hormone (labeled rBST-free), even if it isn’t organic
- the AAP, in a report on Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages, states that “there is no evidence of clinically relevant differences in organic and conventional milk”
- if a company makes more than one type of non-dairy milk, such as rice, almond, and soy, then cross-contamination could be a problem for your child with food allergies
- most kids with a lactose intolerance can tolerate some lactose in their diet, so may be able to drink some cow’s milk and eat cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, even if they can’t tolerate a lot of regular cow’s milk
- while plant based milks are lactose free and some are unsweetened, others might have added sugar, including cane sugar or cane syrup
- reduced-calorie and no added sugar flavored cow’s milk often use artificial sweeteners
- unlike cow’s milk, most plant based milks are very low in protein, so look to give other protein rich foods to make up for it, like eggs, peanut butter, beans, tofu, and of course meats
- although they aren’t labeled as 1% or 2%, plant based milks typically have less fat than whole milk, so look to give other foods with healthy fats to make up for it, like avocados, hummus (provides protein and fat!), peanut butter, some fish (salmon), and use olive oil, coconut oil, and real butter when possible
- phytoestrogens in soy milk are a concern for some people
- most milk, even oat milk, is gluten-free, with the exception of 7 grain milk, which obviously contains wheat
- UHT milk undergoes ultra-high temperature processing or ultra-pasteurization to allow it have a longer shelf life, even if not refrigerated, at least until the carton is opened
- although some experts warn about cross reactivity, like between peanuts and green peas, the Food Allergy Research & Education website states that “If you are allergic to peanuts, you do not have a greater chance of being allergic to another legume (including soy) than you would to any other food.”
- raw cow’s milk, in addition to being a risk for bacterial contamination and outbreaks of Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella, is very low in vitamin D and has no proven health benefits over pasteurized milk
- some brands of almond milk contain only about 2% of almonds, which leads some critics to say that you should just eat a few almonds to get even more nutritional benefits
But don’t forget about cost. Plant based milk can be at least two to four times more expensive than cow’s milk.
So again, remember that while each type of milk has its fans, in general, unless your child has food allergies or intolerances, the best milk is going to be the one you can afford, with the nutrients your child needs, and which he is going to drink, whether it comes from a cow, soybean, almond, or hazelnut, etc.
For More Information On The Best Milk For Kids:
- Which Vitamins Should My Kids Take?
- What Are the Best Foods for Kids?
- Preventing and Treating Vitamin D Deficiency
- Treating Hard To Control Eczema
- The Breastfeeding Elimination Diet for Fussy Babies with Allergic Colitis
- Is There a Cure for Peanut Allergies?
- Get Control of Your Child’s Allergy Triggers
- Evaluating milk and its substitutes
- Almond milk: quite good for you – very bad for the planet
- Your Almond Milk May Not Contain Many Almonds
- AAP – Fat, Salt and Sugar: Not All Bad
- AAP – Preschoolers’ Diets Shouldn’t Be Fat-Free: Here’s Why
- Protein Foods Group Food Gallery
- Choose Healthy Fats
- The pros and cons of phytoestrogens
- FDA Wants Your Opinion on Dairy-Product Labels
- Potential to react to coconut if one is allergic to other tree nuts
- Management of non-IgE mediated cow’s milk allergy
- Allergic to cottage cheese, but not milk
- Cow’s milk allergy and partially hydrolyzed formula
- Milk allergy and lactose in antibiotic
- Unpasteurized cow’s milk and food allergy
- Food challenge choices with discrepant allergy testing
- Milk Allergy
- Soy Allergy
Last Updated on November 21, 2020 by Vincent Iannelli, MD