Milk Alternatives For Your Toddler – When to Consider and Top Substitutes

7 min read

Written by Smita Srivastava

Smita Srivastava

Milk alternatives for your toddler

Milk is the primary source of nutrition for an infant till at least 6 months of age. After a baby turns 1 year of age, most mothers face the dilemma as to what to give their toddler in place of formula or breast milk. And the hunt begins for milk alternatives for her toddler. In such a scenario, cow milk becomes the natural choice as the main drink for her baby. And, for most mothers cow milk seems a safe option as well as it has been given traditionally to toddlers.

But, in addition to cow milk there are a host of other choices available to mothers these days. There are so many ‘new age’ milks available in the market that it becomes difficult for them to decide. So, if you are also confused about what all kinds of milks are there and which milk to give to your toddler, look no further. Find out about the different milk alternatives and decide which one is best suited for your toddler.

In This Article

When Should You Consider Giving Milk Alternatives For Your Toddler?

Under certain circumstances you can consider giving milk alternative to your toddler

Milk is essential for your toddler’s nutritional requirements. It is an important part of your toddler’s diet. Toddlers between 1-3 years of age group need around 300 ml of milk in a day. This will cover up for their calcium needs, which is around 350 mg per day.

Usually cow milk is the go to choice when weaning the toddler off breast milk or formula milk. However, under certain circumstances, you may consider giving milk alternatives to your toddler. Some of these conditions are-

  • It is recommended by your pediatrician as part of medical treatment for your toddler for some allergy. For example, cow milk allergy is one of the most common allergies faced by toddlers once it is introduced in their diet directly or indirectly
  • Your toddler is refusing to drink cow milk so you are scouting around for alternatives to give
  • Your toddler has lactose intolerance, which makes it impossible to drink milk hence, a substitute in form of lactose-free milk is needed
  • You are following a vegan diet and want to implement the same for your toddler. In this case, looking for plant-based milk alternatives is necessary

Generally, milk alternatives are not as rich in protein as cow milk and also have lesser calories than cow milk. An important fact is that milk alternatives are fortified with protein. Milk alternatives provide many essential nutrients including Vitamin D and calcium. When you choose a non-dairy milk alternative, you should find one which is high in protein and fat.

Top 5 Best Milk Alternatives For Toddlers

Dairy is an important source of dietary fat, which is necessary for brain development. Dairy provides nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fat, and protein for toddlers. Milk alternatives should be given in moderation, say 16 to 20 ounces, which is about two-and-a-half cups, because it can fill toddlers up, preventing them from eating nutritious food. Some toddlers are intolerant to dairy milk and may need to choose a plant based milk alternative. Some of the options are-

1. Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is a good alternative

Coconut milk is non-dairy milk, creamy, and sweet. It is made from grating and pulping matured coconuts. Coconut milk is produced from the “meat” or fleshy portion of the coconut. It contains as much saturated fat as cow’s milk. Coconut milk has high amounts of immune boosting Vitamin C and Vitamin E. For toddlers who are allergic to traditional milk, coconut milk comes as a blessing and a good choice to be a part of their dietary intake.

Coconut milk as a milk alternative is rich in calcium, magnesium, and manganese. It is rich in vitamins, proteins, fats, and calcium. Toddlers may miss out on some nutrients, so it is essential to supplement the intake of coconut milk with other sources that provide the missing nutrients.

2. Rice Milk

Rice milk is a good option too

Rice milk is made by grinding rice, mostly brown rice, and its consistency is similar to cow milk. For many years, rice milk was the only commonly available dairy-free milk alternative. Rice milk does not have any taste as such and may not be a favorite drink for your toddler. Today rice milk is available with thickeners and flavors, but it is lacking in protein.

In comparison with other milk alternatives, rice milk has a larger amount of carbohydrates and it is low in fat and calories.

There are some toddlers who have allergies and are easily susceptible to reactions from different types of milk. In such cases rice milk is the safest alternative. It has a fairly neutral taste which makes it a good choice for making other preparations as well. 

3. Almond Milk

If you are giving almond milk to your toddler make sure it's homemade

It is made from roasted and crushed almonds. It has a sweet and nutty taste. Almond milk is a good choice as a milk alternative as it contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. Unsweetened almond milk has around 50-80 percent fewer calories than traditional milk. It also has less sugar and carbohydrates.

The one available in the market is ready to consume, mixed with water, vitamins, stabilizers, and sometimes added sugars. Almond milk has anti-inflammatory properties and is easier for toddlers to digest than dairy milk. It is low in protein and is fortified with many additional nutrients.

If you are giving almond milk to your toddler, it is best to get plain almond milk or make your own almond milk at home. However, it is best to check for nut allergies before introducing almond milk to your toddler. 

4. Lactose-Free Milk

Lactose=free milk is a good choice if your toddler has lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance occurs when there is a deficiency of the enzyme lactase in the body.  Some toddlers are unable to fully digest lactose in dairy products. Such toddlers need to have lactose-free products or milk alternatives. These products are still dairy products but with the addition of lactase.

A major difference between regular milk and lactose-free milk is the difference in taste. Lactose-free milk is sweeter than regular milk due to the added lactase. If a parent chooses to replace regular milk with lactose-free milk, then the best alternative can be almond milk or soy milk. It has a longer shelf life than regular milk. Lactose-free milk is actually a commercial milk product that is free of lactose but with the nutrient profile of regular milk.

5. Soy Milk

Soy milk is good for toddlers having lactose intolerance or dairy allergy

Soy milk is made from soaked and ground soybeans. It has a smooth and balanced taste of sweetness and bitterness. Soy milk contains all the essential amino acids. It is similar to whole milk with regard to protein content while having fewer calories and grams of fat, hence soy milk is free of cholesterol.

Soy milk comes as a blessing for toddlers who are lactose-intolerant or have a dairy allergy. It is rich in potassium and Vitamin B and considered as one of the most nutritionally balanced plant-based milk alternatives. Fortified soy beverages are the only milk alternative that helps meet a toddler’s recommended dairy needs.

How to Decide Which is the Best Milk Alternative For Toddlers?

With so many choices available today, it gets difficult to decide which milk alternative is right for your toddler. In case of allergy, your doctor may prescribe a specific milk type based on their diagnosis of your toddler’s condition. In that case it is better to stick to that only. But, if you are choosing a milk alternative due to any lifestyle related concern, then it is better to consider certain factors before selecting the final product for your little one. These factors are-

  • Check the packaging for sugar content in the milk before buying. Sugar does not add any nutritional benefit for the kids. Hence, it is advisable to go for the unsweetened milk alternative
  • While choosing milk, it is better to stay away from the organic plant milks. Reason being that these organic milks do not have any vitamins or minerals added to them. So always go for fortified milk which has these nutrients
  • Check the label for protein and energy information in the milk. The product should contain 2-3 gm of protein per 100 ml and at least 50 kcal per 100 ml of milk
  • Sometimes the milk may contain salt. So, better to check the label for added salt and avoid that product completely

To put it in a nutshell, over the past decade milk alternatives have become very popular as many families have chosen to be dairy-free. Choosing the best milk alternative after understanding the difference between your options, helps you make the right choice for your toddler.


1. Is it OK if My Toddler Does Not Like to Drink Milk?

Yes it is absolutely fine if your toddler is not fond of drinking milk. The only reason we give milk to kids is because of calcium and protein found in it. If your little one is not fond of milk, then there are various other sources through which one can cover up for their daily calcium and protein requirements.

2. What Can I Give My Toddler in Place of Milk For Calcium?

Milk is not the only source of calcium. There are a lot of other things which one can have to meet the calcium requirement. Some of the things one can have in place of milk for calcium are- soybeans, white beans, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, etc., fish like salmon, sardines etc., nuts and seeds like almond, sesame seeds, flax seeds.

3. Can I Give to My Toddler Curd Instead of Milk For Calcium?

Yes you can give curd as a supplement in place of milk if your little one is not drinking milk. However, do note that curd has lower calcium content than milk. If 100 gm of milk has 125 mg of calcium, then 100 gm of curd only has around 85 mg of calcium. So, you can give curd but you may have to rely on other sources of calcium as well to meet your kid’s daily calcium requirements.

Smita Srivastava, Bachelors (BA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Delhi University
Masters (MA) in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Kurukshetra University

With a background in Mass media and journalism, Smita comes with rich and vast experience in content creation, curation, and editing. As a mom of a baby girl, she is an excellent candidate for writing and editing parenting and pregnancy content. The content she writes and edits is influenced by her own journey through pregnancy and motherhood. When not writing- She can be found curled up with a book. Or, bingeing on Netflix.Read more.

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