Healthy Living in the North

Milk and young children: what you need to know

A child with a cup of milk.In a recent post, I explored how milk and fortified soy beverages fit into the new food guide. Did you know that Canada’s food guide is intended for Canadians two years of age and older? Guidance for feeding infants and toddlers is more specific. Today, let’s take a closer look at feeding advice related to milk and young children.

Breastfeeding is recommended to two years and beyond

For as long as children continue to receive breast milk, they don’t need milk from cows (or goats) or other alternatives. Moms can be assured that their own milk is the best choice for their child, for as long as they and their child wish to continue breastfeeding.

Formula? When to switch to cow’s milk

Older babies who do not receive breast milk can usually switch from a store-bought infant formula to cow’s milk between 9-12 months of age (if you have questions about infant formula, speak with your healthcare provider).

Introducing animal milk

Do you want to offer your child cow’s or goat’s milk? Consider these tips:

  • Wait until your baby is 9-12 months of age and eating iron-rich foods
  • Choose a pasteurized, full-fat (homogenized or 3.25% M.F.) milk that is not flavoured or sweetened. Goat’s milk should be fortified with vitamin D.
  • Offer milk in an open cup, at meal or snack times.

Beverages to avoid for children less than two years old

Lower fat milks (i.e. 2%, 1%, and skim milk) are too low in fat and calories for young children. Plant-based beverages, such as soy, almond, rice, coconut, and hemp drinks, are also low in calories and other important nutrients. The Canadian Pediatric Society and Dietitians of Canada released a statement advising parents against providing these drinks to young children.

Fortified soy beverages are an option for older children

For children two years and older, fortified soy beverage is the only plant-based drink that is nutritious enough to be an alternative to milk. If your child doesn’t drink milk, consider offering about two cups per day of an unsweetened, fortified soy beverage.

Be cautious with other plant-based beverages

Beverages made from rice, almond, coconut, oat, hemp, cashew, etc. are low in protein and many other nutrients, though some store-bought products have vitamins and minerals added into them. If you choose to provide these drinks to children two years and older, make sure that they are eating a variety of nutritious foods and are growing well. Also, choose products that are unsweetened and fortified.

The bottom line

That’s a lot of nitty-gritty details about milk and young children! The table below organizes information by age group.

Age Recommendations
0-9 months · Breastfeed your baby.

· If you do not exclusively provide breast milk to your baby, offer a store-bought infant formula.

9-24 months · Continue to breastfeed your toddler.

· At 9-12 months of age, non-breastfed toddlers can transition from formula to pasteurized whole cow’s milk (3.25% M.F.) if they are regularly eating iron-rich solid foods. Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups). Full fat goat’s milk fortified with vitamin D is also an option.

· Vegetarian babies who drink formula, who will not be receiving cow or goat’s milk, should continue to receive a follow-up soy formula until 24 months of age.

2+ years · Continue to breastfeed for as long as you and your child wish.

· Children that no longer breastfeed or who don’t breastfeed very often can be offered pasteurized cow’s milk (whole, 2%, 1% or skim) or goat’s milk (fortified with vitamin D). Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups).

· Fortified soy beverages (unsweetened) also become an option at this age.

 

A dietitian can help you find ways to support your child’s nutritional needs.

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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Canada’s new food guide: where did milk go?

The Canada's Food Guide and a jug of milk.In the lead up to the release of Canada’s new food guide, there was much chatter about milk, particularly around whether milk would be removed or not.

The food guide, which provides eating advice for healthy Canadians two years of age and older, was launched in January 2019 with a brand new look. The rainbow with the four food groups was replaced with a plate with three food categories: vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein foods. Something else appears to be different – a glass of water is shown with this plate. So, the question still remains: was milk wiped from the food guide?

Milk: still got it!

The new food guide features a section on the plate called protein foods, which combines foods from the older meat and alternatives, and milk and alternatives food groups. Protein foods include lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and poultry. This is also where we now find milk and products like cheese, yogurt, and kefir (fermented milk), as well as unsweetened fortified soy beverages. As the name implies, these protein foods are all good sources of protein and various related nutrients.

Milk: a nutritious beverage

So, for those of you who enjoy milk, rest assured that this nutritious beverage can continue to have a place in your diet. There are good reasons that milk has stayed in our federal dietary guidance:

  • Milk is a great source of various nutrients, such as protein, vitamin B12, and calcium.
  • In Canada, cow’s milk is also fortified with vitamin D, a nutrient that is available in only a few foods.
  • Milk is also widely available and can be enjoyed with many other foods, making it an easy and versatile source of these key nutrients.

Unsweetened fortified soy beverages: also an option

What if you don’t drink milk? No worries – you can get similar nutrients from other sources. The most nutritious non-dairy drink is fortified soy beverage; in the older version of Canada’s food guide, soy beverage was listed in the milk and alternatives food group, along with milk. In the new food guide, soy beverage is the only plant-based drink that is nutritious enough to be grouped with the protein foods. Unsweetened fortified versions are recommended and these are an option for Canadians two years and older (note: soy beverages are not recommended for children under two years of age).

Other plant-based beverages: not so nutritious

You might be wondering, “what about other plant-based beverages?” These include drinks made from almonds, cashews, hemp, coconut, rice, potatoes, and others.

It’s important to know what these beverages offer in the way of nutrition – it varies! In general, these drinks are poor sources of protein, containing as little as 0 or 1 gram of protein per cup. Compare that to 9 grams of protein from cow’s milk and 7 grams of protein from soy beverages. Plant-based beverages are also naturally low in many other nutrients, though some vitamins and minerals are added into commercial products that are fortified (check the labels). For some nutrient comparisons, check out this related article: Understanding Non-Dairy Beverages.

Since even fortified versions of plant-based beverages are low in protein (except soy) and many other nutrients, these drinks are not recommended for infants and toddlers. If they are offered to children over two years, careful meal planning is required to ensure that they are meeting their nutrient needs through other sources. Are you wondering what is recommended for children? Stay tuned for another blog post, coming soon: Milk and young children: What you need to know.

The bottom line

Milk continues to be a hot topic! Hopefully this article has provided clarity on how milk, fortified soy beverages, and other plant-based beverages fit within the updated food guide. That said, our diets are deeply personal, and a lot affects how and what we eat. A dietitian is a great resource and can help you choose beverages to meet your family’s nutritional needs.

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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