Milk & Dairy Products

We’ve all heard that drinking milk helps to build strong bones and teeth, but is it really that important?  In a word, yes.

In more than one word, the chief nutrients provided by milk, namely protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and vitamin D are what make this simple beverage such a dietary star. While these nutrients can be obtained elsewhere, milk wraps them up into one neat little package…for your little package (that would be, your child). We’re not only talking good for bones and teeth; we’re talking good for muscle recovery after exercise, sleep quality, hair, skin and nails. Milk is the “it” drink.

What Else “Counts” as Dairy Food?  

This is easy – milk (or a calcium-fortified milk alternative), yogurt, and cheese are all considered part of the dairy group. Simple as that. Oh, I almost forgot – cream cheese is not a dairy food.  Neither is butter. (Sorry!)

How Much Dairy Should My Child Have?

  • Children ages 2 to 3 years old…  need 2 cups per day. One serving for this age group is ½ cup of milk or yogurt, or 1½ ounces of unprocessed cheese.
  • Children ages 4 – 8 years old… need 2 ½ cups per day. One serving for this age group is ½ – ¾ cup of milk or yogurt, or 1½ ounces of unprocessed cheese.
  • Older children, teens and adults… need 3 cups per day. One serving for this age group is 1 cup of milk or yogurt, or 1½ ounces of unprocessed cheese.

This might sound like a lot of dairy.  Keep it simple and serve milk or yogurt for three meals of the day, and you just “got it done.” Older kids and teens might give you a run for your money when it comes to drinking milk. Maintain water and milk as the primary beverages in your home, and your job will be easier.

Whole, Low-Fat, or Skim?

Our little ones should be drinking whole milk (or breast milk, obviously) between the ages of one and two. After that, low fat milk or even skim milk is recommended. The nutrients present in whole milk are all present in low fat and skim milk as well, with the exception of all that saturated fat.

My Child Can’t Drink Milk

If milk is not particularly kind to your child (i.e., allergy or intolerance), there are several alternatives to milk and other dairy foods that can help him or her obtain adequate calcium. Fortified (with calcium and vitamin D) soymilk, rice milk, almond milk and lite coconut milk are obvious options.  Just make sure you shake the container before serving, as the added calcium carbonate tends to settle to the bottom. Other options include, calcium-fortified orange juice and bread, broccoli, dark leafy greens (every kid’s favorite), and tofu. Yogurt and some cheeses are often well tolerated by children who are lactose intolerant so give them a try in small amounts.

Parents Who Drink Milk Have Children Who Drink Milk

What is it (besides lactose intolerance) that makes us adults shy away from milk and other dairy products? For those of us who are 30 years and over, the nutrients provided by this famous food group are more important than ever to help us maintain our bone mass as we age.  Plus, we have the job of being positive role models for our children, so drinking milk or a milk-alternative at mealtimes is one way to model this healthy behavior.

Whether your child (or you) drink it hot or cold, in a smoothie or accompanied by chocolate, this drink is definitely all it’s cracked up to be – a delicious beverage behind a powerhouse of good nutrition. Excuse me, please. I am going to pour myself a glass of ice-cold milk.

Anne Marie Kuchera, our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultant, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.