For many families, milk is the drink of choice for toddlers.
But if you have dairy allergies in your family or you’re concerned about health issues like hormones in cow’s milk, then you might question how healthy milk really is. As a result, many parents consider almond milk as a substitute. But is it an effective substitute?
No matter what type of milk you’re switching to, don’t make the change while your baby is still a baby. When your baby is young, they need all the nutrients in breast milk or formula. Regular milk (of any kind) isn’t an appropriate substitute.
Ideally, you should wait until after your baby hits their 1st birthday to introduce milk. That means that really, they’ll be a toddler when they try their first sip of cow or almond milk.
The main nutritional benefits of cow’s milk are protein, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
In a 2005 study, school-aged kids who drank milk at lunch were the only ones who met the recommended daily allowance of calcium. Toddlers can get their recommended daily allowance from two or three servings of milk per day.
There’s also such a thing as too much milk. When your baby weans from a diet of all breast milk or formula, it’s possible to replace too many of those calories with another kind of milk instead of a variety of solid foods.
Both you and your child are used to milk being the entire meal, but after age 1, milk should be just a supplement, not the main meal.
Too much milk can mean your child is getting too much fat and not enough iron, which can put them at risk of anemia. Your toddler shouldn’t have more than about 16 to 24 ounces (two to three servings) of milk per day.
Finally, if your toddler is still breastfeeding, then another kind of milk isn’t necessary. Breast milk can also supply the protein and calcium your toddler needs as a supplement to a healthy diet of solid food.
Although almond milk has vitamins A and D, it’s relatively low in protein and calcium, as compared to cow milk or breast milk.
The average toddler diet has various sources of protein, but it usually doesn’t include many sources of calcium. That’s why milk is recommended.
Some brands of almond milk are also high in sugar.
However, most commercial almond milk is fortified with calcium to make it equivalent to cow milk in its calcium content. So if your toddler has a dairy allergy or intolerance, fortified almond milk can be an effective substitute.
Almond milk is also lower in calories than cow milk, so it can be a good source of hydration for older toddlers.
Neither almond milk nor cow milk is a good substitute for breast milk. Breast milk contains a wide variety of nutrients that meet all of your baby’s nutritional needs for the first 6 months and the majority of nutritional needs for the first year.
Until your baby is 6 months old, they should drink only breast milk or formula. After 6 months, solid foods can gradually replace breast milk or formula, but your baby shouldn’t have any kind of milk until after their first birthday.
Almond milk is a healthy milk substitute, but it isn’t a good source of calcium unless it’s fortified.
It’s especially important for children and teens to get enough calcium, since bones build up calcium content until around age 30. Insufficient calcium can lead to low bone mass, osteoporosis, and bone fractures later in life.
If you choose almond milk as a substitute for your child, it’s better to opt for a brand that’s fortified with calcium. Avoid brands that are sweetened with sugar or other sweeteners. In addition, make sure your toddler’s diet includes plenty of sources of protein.