When I'm working with families that have children going from infants (under 12 months) to toddlers (one-year-old), there is often a lot of confusion about what their new toddler should drink and eat. One of the central things I'm asked about is milk: "what kind and how much milk should my one-year-old drink?"
The general recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is for children between 12-24 months to drink whole milk (1). The exception would be a reduced fat (2%) milk if the child is obese or there is concern for a family history of obesity, dyslipidemia, or cardiovascular disease.
Two Cups a Day
Toddlers need a total of two cups of dairy a day (and that's all dairy - milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) (2). I like to think of breaking this down into four half-cup servings (Remember: 4 x 4 ounces).
Example Daily Dairy Intake
- 4 ounces of whole milk with breakfast
- 1 ounce of cheese at lunch
- 4 ounces whole milk yogurt for a snack
- 4 ounces of whole milk with dinner or before brushing teeth before bed
Importance of Appropriate Portions
It's important for toddlers to consume enough dairy to lead to adequate vitamin D stores, in addition to the calcium and protein milk provides. For the typical one-year-old, whole milk is important to continue to support healthy brain growth. However, it's important for your toddler not to drink too much milk because excessive milk and calcium consumption can lead to depleted iron stores (3). You would be surprised the number of one and one-and-a-half-year-olds we would screen for low hemoglobin, and most of the time the culprit was excessive milk consumption!
It is important to note that if your toddler is breastfeeding (which is perfectly fine and normal!), each breastfeeding session counts as a serving of dairy. So if your toddler is still nursing at least four times within 24 hours, their calcium needs are fulfilled (4).
Dairy Allergy or Intolerance
If you are concerned your child has an allergy or intolerance to milk/ dairy products, please talk to your child's doctor to seek an official diagnosis and seek counsel from your pediatrician on what they would like to substitute. I've talked to some pediatricians that are fine with mom continuing to breastfeed, or maybe offer lactose-free whole milk, or a soy-based toddler formula, etc. It varies on a child-by-child basis, so again - talk to your child's pediatrician.