Milk has always been considered very important for growing children, and rightly so. However, toddlers start disliking milk too early these days, posing the challenge of hunting for alternatives for milk for toddlers. We know how beneficial milk is for growing children, and while it is natural to feel stressed if your child refuses milk, the good news is that there are plenty of alternatives to milk for toddlers that can meet the nutritional requirements of your child.
If you are a parent looking for information on alternatives to milk, well, this piece is for you.
But first, let’s know why is milk so important for growing children.
Why is milk important for children?
Well, milk is your baby’s first food after he or she is born, but it is not only important in the first year of life, but even after. Milk is also the primary source of calcium, which is the primary requisite for your toddlers strong and healthy bones and teeth. Because toddlers are growing and developing at a rapid pace, their calcium requirements are quite high. Our bodies cannot make calcium on their own, so diary and diary products play a vital role in providing our bodies with calcium.
A toddler needs about 500-700 mg of calcium everyday, till the age of 3 years1.
Milk is one of the most popular diary product for children, with a glass of 244 mL of cow’s milk containing about 305 mg calcium.
This itself gives us a fair understanding why milk forms an important part of your child’s diet. Further, apart from building strong bones and teeth, calcium also helps in-
- Regulating the heart beat
- Maintaining blood clotting rates
- Encouraging a healthy function of the nervous system
- Squeezing and relaxing muscles
- Releasing hormones and other bodily chemicals in the bloodstream
- Prevention of oesteroposis
Now that we know how important milk, or primarily, how important calcium is for our children, let us now know –
Is milk really the best source of calcium?
Breathe a sigh of relief, because though milk is the most common source of calcium, it is not the only one. You can look at many alternatives to milk for children that not only meet the calcium requirements of your child, but also provide wholesome nutrition. Whether your child doesn’t or cannot have milk, these milk alternatives can be your best pick.
However, when picking milk alternatives for your children, make sure you read the labels properly. These alternatives to milk should not only be calcium rich, but also fortified with vitamin D, and even proteins. Choosing to make your own almond milk, for example, will not be fortified with vitamin D, unlike a cup of cow’s milk. That is why, reading labels and choosing the best alternatives to milk for your child becomes so necessary.
Alternatives for milk for toddlers
Comparable to milk’s nutritional strength, the below food items can be substituted for milk. The plant-based milks are a popular choice now for various reasons, and most of them do taste terrific and add flavour when blended with smoothies, shakes and other recipes. Other than plant based milks, or nut milks, we have also given a few other milk derivatives that benefit growing children.
Most kids love cheese, mine definitely does. Cheese makes an excellent addition in everyday food, and the presence of calcium, protein, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12 makes it all the more desirable. Lactose intolerant children too could have cheese, especially the aged variety like Cheddar cheese and Swiss cheese.
Cheese can be had as a quick snack and make a good and filling food while travelling. Cheese can be added to almost everything your child eats – vegetables, parathas, uttapam, breads, dosa, and even soups.
2. Nut milks
Nut milks such as almond milk, coconut milk and cashew milks are quite popular these days. Nut milk is prepared by grinding nuts with set quantities of water to obtain a milky liquid. However, being plant based, nut milk is deficient in proteins and vitamin B12. Among all nut milks, almond milk is most nutritious with most proteins, calcium and the all powerful antioxidant, vitamin E.
Largely not recommended for toddlers, nut milks should be only an occasional consumption if need be. You can buy it sweetened or unsweetened, and owing to its rich, creamy texture and pleasant flavour.
Another excellent protein and calcium rich food, tofu is a versatile soft cheese prepared by coagulating soy milk curd. Tofu tastes mushy, spongy and relatively flavourless. Tofu is also known as bean curd.
Tofu can be had as it is, done with vegetables to make it more appealing, added to your normal curries, or simply made into a desert. Tofu is generally sautéed and served with vegetables, sometimes grilled and sometimes on a seenkh. Tofu nuggets and bites are quite toddler friendly and take very little time to get ready.
Made from our desi milk, paneer is used in almost all Indian homes. Paneer is an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus and contains relatively good amounts of fats, minerals, vitamin A and loads of energy. Paneer is made from curdling milk with lemon or vinegar, and the resultant soft solids are then pressed to release the liquids. What remains is a block of white, soft nutritional superfood that can be given to your child in a variety of ways.
You can give paneer in cubed form, crumbled form, sautéed form or made with vegetables, stuffed in parathas, eggs, rolls and what not. With paneer, imagination is the key.
For kids who refuse milk, yogurts are your best bet. Rich in calcium, proteins, potassium and other minerals, yogurts can be made into smoothies with fruits or served as it is. Fruit yogurts are generally a hit with kids of all ages. Lactose intolerant children too can have yogurts and lassi because the lactose gets converted into lactic acid by bacterial fermentation.
Lassi, which is made by dahi or yogurt can also serve as your child’s replacement to milk because the flavour is tangy and it feels light. It can be had sweetened, unsweetened or with a pinch of salt and pepper. Apart from a rich nutrient profile, yogurts/dahi/lassi also contain various probiotics and bacteria that help keep the gut healthy.
6. Soy milk
Soy milk is the largely preferred alternative to milk because is nutritional profile is closest to cow’s milk. It is rich and creamy, and available in many flavours. It is best to buy commercially produced soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin A and D. There has been quite a debate on soy milk causing increased estrogen in the body ultimately resulting in infertility. It is also not widely recommended to children less than 2 years of age because it may cause allergic reactions due to protein content.
Should you decide to include soy milk in your baby’s diet, make sure you buy whole soy milk, because fat is vital for brain development in toddlers.
Also, make sure that you supplement your child’s diet with foods rich in vitamin B12 which is missing in plant-based milks.
Keeping in mind that toddlers need optimum nutrition to grow, thrive and develop into healthy beings, play around with milk and milk derivates, and supplement their diet with rich vegetables and fruits. Have as many colours on the plate as possible, and respect your child’s tastes and preferences when it comes to food.