Skip to main content

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

Milk is an important part of 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. Generally speaking,  milk helps your toddler’s body grow. Almost all cow’s milk has been fortified with calcium and vitamin D, 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 an adequate substitute for cow’s milk.

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

Why is milk so important?

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

Experts suggest that cow’s milk shouldn’t be introduced into your child’s diet until they reach their first birthday. Before 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.

Can toddlers have almond milk?

two glasses of almond milk with straws
m.pilot / Shutterstock

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’s 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.

Other plant-based drinks

Toddler drinking milk out of a cup.
LP7 / Getty Images

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 5 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 2024, 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.

What to look for in non-dairy milk 

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

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 suggested. “And one that is low in sugar.” Amber Rodenas, RN, LDN, 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.”

Signs your toddler may have a dairy sensitivity

antoniodiaz / Shutterstock

Many parents try non-dairy milk for their toddlers because they are worried they may have dairy insensitivity, like lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and milk products, and when your body can’t break down or digest milk, it may be a symbol of lactose intolerance.

If your toddler is suffering from stomach aches and pains or bloating after eating or drinking milk products or is suffering from gastrointestinal issues after ingesting these products, it could be a sign of lactose intolerance. Contact your pediatrician if you suspect your toddler may have dairy insensitivity or lactose intolerance so you can come up with a plan to ensure they are getting the needed calcium and vitamin D.

The bottom line: Almond milk is suitable for toddlers as long as parents do their due diligence and ensure they’re fortified and don’t contain any added sugars.

Kelli Catana
Kelli is a freelance writer who has covered the world of entertainment, pop culture, parenting, and lifestyle for various…
Is your toddler’s hair growing slowly? Here are some tips to promote hair growth
Healthy hacks for slow growing hair
Brushing a toddler's hair

Some babies are born with a full head of hair while others come into the world with a bald head. Whichever camp your baby falls into, you've probably read the books and learned early on about the many benefits of brushing your baby's hair regularly. But, as you draw near the 1-year-old mark, you may start to worry about whether your toddler's hair is just growing slowly, or not at all. Is there a range of what's normal for baby and toddler hair growth? Yes! This is because of a baby's individual DNA. So, there's no need to stress either way.

It’s completely normal for babies to have very little to no hair during their first year. After their first birthday comes and goes, you may wonder why there's no active hair growth. Many factors determine how fast hair grows. If your baby is still sporting wispy strands by the time they are in the toddler stage, there's probably no need to worry.

Read more
8 incredible tips to get a toddler to sleep quickly
Here's how to help your toddler get the sleep they need
Sleeping toddler

Getting a good night's sleep isn't just important for your toddler but for everyone else in the house as well. Having a well-rested household means everyone functions better and is in a better mood. If your toddler takes forever to fall asleep, that can affect everyone's sleep. Fortunately, there are some bedtime hacks and tips to get your toddler to sleep that can help.
Setting up the right timing and routine and sticking to a consistent schedule make a big difference in deterring kids from getting out of bed to ask for a snack, water, or song every few minutes. When toddlers know what to expect at bedtime, they're much more likely to have an easier time drifting off to dreamland. Read on for our eight best tips to get a toddler to sleep.

8 tips to get toddlers to sleep
1. Time bedtime perfectly
If you start trying to put your toddler to bed for the night at 4:00 p.m., you'll probably have a very long and terribly frustrating bedtime process. It's the same if you don't start until 11:00 p.m. In general, you can't force a bedtime. It's best to make bedtime the time that your toddler naturally gets sleepy but isn't yet overtired. You can control when your toddler gets sleepy by letting them nap or not and when you schedule the nap, but by the end of the day, you pretty much have to go with the flow.
2. Keep bedtime consistent
While you want to go with your child's natural rhythm as we just discussed, once you know the time your child typically gets drowsy, pick that time on the clock to be bedtime every night. Staying up an hour later one night and an hour earlier the next won't encourage a successful bedtime routine with minimal resistance.
3. Time dinner appropriately
Does your child come out of bed asking for a snack? Make sure they haven't eaten too early so that they're hungry again after the bedtime routine. Time dinner to be over an hour or less before bedtime to avoid this issue. The digestion will also help make them sleepy.
4. Wind down
Kids shouldn't go straight from running around outside into bedtime. After dinner, wind down with books, chatting about their day, quiet music, stretching, or even breathing exercises or meditation. This isn't a good time for tablet time since the light can mess with their circadian rhythm. Bedtime starts long before bedtime, prepping the mind to be quiet and restful.
5. Set up the space for success
Make sure your child's bedroom encourages sleep. You want them to feel safe and calm, so some soothing music or a white noise machine can help. Some fairy lights or a night light that projects stars onto the ceiling can also make a child less scared of the dark. You can even put a lavender spray or sachet under the pillow to encourage sleep. Invest in blackout curtains so natural light doesn't keep your child awake or wake them up too early (they might also be scared of the dark out the window, so keep the curtains closed).
6. Stick to a consistent routine
The repetition of the bedtime routine should cue your child's brain every night that it is time for bed. For most kids, this involves brushing their teeth, washing their face, going potty, and then once in their room, putting on PJs and having some books read aloud to them. You may also add rubbing their back or another soothing and calming part of the routine after story time. Even the number of books and length of the stories should be consistent.
7. Attend to every need preemptively
If you are potty training or post-potty training, you might not let your child have unlimited water overnight. In this case, having their last drink of water should be part of the bedtime routine. Make sure going potty is one of the last parts of the routine before heading to the bedroom so they can't come out saying they have to go again. Whatever they come out asking for nightly, attend to it right before going to bed to avoid the request coming after bedtime.
8. Leave them with a recording still entertaining them
Your child likely misses you once you leave. Record your voice telling them a story on an old phone (or a tape recorder, tablet, or whatever you have available), and let the recording of you telling them more stories continue as you leave. They can fall asleep to your voice without you needing to be there. If you don't want to record or don't have a device for that, there are many audiobooks, bedtime podcasts, and pre-recorded short stories for kids (many specifically for bedtime) that you can leave playing.

Read more
Feeding toddlers when sick: What to feed a toddler with a fever
If your toddler is sick with a fever, feed them these foods
A parent taking care of a sick child.

Toddlers are typically full of energy and giggles, so it can be hard for parents when their normally happy, boisterous, and active little one feels under the weather. Whether it's cold and flu season or your toddler came home from a playdate with a bug, knowing what to feed a toddler with a fever can be a challenge for even the most seasoned parent.

Although fevers are a pretty common occurrence during toddlerhood, especially if they're in a daycare or preschool setting, they can still make your child pretty miserable. So, while you can't make your child's fever magically disappear, there are some foods to give to help your little one feel better and keep that strength up. Here's what to feed a toddler with a fever, as well as some foods that you may want to avoid.

Read more