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Can toddlers drink almond milk or other plant-based drinks?

How safe are milk alternatives for your toddler?

toddler girl drinking milk from a straw
Image Source/Getty Images

Everyone knows how important milk is in the diet of toddlers. Milk, along with other fortified dairy products or soy beverages, plays an integral role in helping toddlers grow strong bones and teeth and in general, helps your toddler’s body grow. Almost all cow’s milk has been fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which are crucial nutrients for your growing child. But what’s a parent to do if they are vegan or have children who are allergic to cow’s milk? These parents often wonder if their toddlers can have almond milk, or other plant-based drinks as a good substitute for cow’s milk.

With the recent increase in the popularity of plant-based drinks and almond milk, parents have been confused as to whether their toddlers should be drinking these beverages instead of cow’s milk. If you’ve been curious about whether toddlers can drink almond milk or other plant-based drinks, this should help clear up any confusion.

Baby in highchair with milk and cereal.
Andersen Ross Photography Inc / Getty Images

Why is milk so important?

Experts suggest that cow’s milk shouldn’t be introduced into your child’s diet until he reaches his first birthday. Prior to that, he should be drinking breast milk or formula exclusively. As the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, cow’s milk can be too harsh on an infant’s digestive system so they recommend waiting until after the first birthday to make the switch from breast or formula feeding to whole milk. There can’t be any denying the importance milk plays in a child’s development: as per the CDC, pasteurized cow’s milk contains both vitamin D and calcium which are important in aiding in the growth of healthy, strong bones and teeth.

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Can toddlers have almond milk?

Almond milk has become increasingly popular as a milk-alternative beverage, but the reviews are mixed on the benefits of giving it to your toddler. Lots of families prefer almond milk over cow’s milk for a variety of reasons, including allergies, sensitivities, diet, and personal preferences. Toddlers can safely drink almond milk but many experts are concerned that it doesn’t provide the required vitamins and calcium that cow’s milk does. Healthline warns that “although almond milk has vitamins A and D, it’s relatively low in protein and calcium, as compared to cow milk or breast milk.”

There’s also the issue of added sugars. There are brands of almond milk that contain added sugar, which parents should note before giving it to their toddler, as she doesn’t need to be consuming extra sugar. The good news is that there are almond milk options available that don’t contain added sugar and are fortified with calcium. That makes it a good alternative to cow’s milk and parents just need to be vigilant and read labels when selecting which brand to purchase.

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Other plant-based drinks

On the other hand, experts do not advise that children under the age of five drink plant-based drinks such as milk made from rice, coconut, oats, hemp, or other blends. In 2019, national guidelines advised against giving plant-based drinks to children under age five because they were said to lack the key nutrients toddlers need to grow and develop. “In the last five to 10 years there has been an explosion of interest in plant-based milk. More and more parents are turning to them for a variety of reasons and there’s a misconception that they are equal somehow to cow or dairy milk, but that’s just not the case,” Megan Lott, deputy director of the Healthy Eating Research explained, according to CNN. Again, the lack of vitamin D and calcium and the possibility of added sugar are the cause of concern with plant-based drinks.

However, now that it’s 2023, there are many who claim that as long as you are buying fortified plant-based milk with no added sugar, it can be just as nutritious for toddlers as cow’s milk. Fortified soy milk can provide the same nutritional benefits as cow’s milk and there are so many other plant-based drink options available. In an article discussing the benefits of plant-based drinks for toddlers, The Globe and Mail notes that pea milk, made from yellow peas, is also a great alternative to cow’s milk as it contains 8 to 10 grams of protein per cup and is also fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D.

A child drinking out of a sippy cup.
Themalni/Shutterstock

What to look for in non-dairy milks 

If you do decide to give your toddler almond or other non-dairy milk, there are some things you should look for. As we said above, choose an option that is fortified with calcium and vitamin D, but also look for one that contains protein, fat, fiber, and iron, pediatrician Dr. Joel Gator told Very Well Family. “Look for a very clean milk alternative with few preservatives,” he suggests. “And one that is low in sugar.” Amber Rodenas, RN, LDN, founder of Seeds and Sprouts Nutrition for Kids, also added, When looking for a milk alternative, it is best to choose one with comparable nutritional value to cow’s milk in regards to protein and calcium content.”

The bottom line: almond milk is suitable for toddlers as long as parents are doing their due diligence and ensuring they are fortified and don’t contain any added sugars.

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Kelli Catana
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Kelli is a freelance writer who has covered the world of entertainment, pop culture, parenting, and lifestyle for various…
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