Dr. Lindsay Bailey

The doctor is in: Milk alternatives

Is it OK to give my kid milk alternatives (soy, almond, cashew, etc.)? Do I give them more or less than what I would if I was using whole milk? At what age is this appropriate?

Milk alternatives are a very popular choice presently, and many parents question their appropriateness for their child. Is it OK to give your child milk alternatives? This depends on many factors. 

Nutritionally, whole milk provides calcium, vitamin D, protein, carbohydrate and oils. Children (especially age 2 years and under) require a higher daily percentage of fats/oils compared to adults. Milk alternatives may not provide adequate oils for growth needs. Similarly, many milk alternatives do not provide comparable amounts of protein compared to cow’s milk. Soy milk is the most nutritionally comparable to whole milk. Pea protein-fortified milk typically adds a source of protein as well.

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Many milk alternatives are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, but all brands and types have variable amounts. It is recommended to check the label for the nutritional content of fortified calcium and vitamin D. Some children also have food allergies that prohibit them from consuming cow’s milk, so the use of milk alternatives can provide a good source of calcium and vitamin D. If you have further questions, it is recommended to consult your child’s primary care provider or ask for a referral to a pediatric dietitian. 

— Lindsay Bailey, MS, RD, LD, CEDRD, CDCES, Registered Dietitian, Akron Children’s Hospital

Photo: Akron Childrens Hopsital