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My Toddler Won't Eat Dairy
Read time: 4 minutes
What to know if your toddler is refusing milk and other dairy foods
Dairy provides calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, potassium, magnesium, and protein for your toddler’s growing body.
A variety of dairy free foods can fulfill certain nutrient needs in your toddler’s diet if your toddler is refusing whole milk or cannot consume dairy due to an allergy or intolerance.
While breastmilk and/or infant formula are the primary source of calories and nutrients for babies under the age of 1 year, for many littles, cow’s milk starts to play an important role once they become toddlers.1
But what do you do if your little one refuses whole milk or is allergic to it?
Read on to learn why dairy is important and how your toddler can get the right nutrients if they aren’t able to eat or drink it.
When can babies start having whole milk and dairy?
Babies can have dairy product (i.e., yogurt, cheese) when they start complementary foods around 6 months of age.
However, whole milk in liquid form should be avoided until baby’s first birthday, unless it’s just a small amount used in baking or cooking.16 Yogurt and cheese can be introduced earlier because their proteins are easier to digest by tiny tummies.17
At one year of age, it is recommended to wean your little one from infant formula and transition to whole cow’s milk as a nutrient-dense part of an overall healthy diet of mostly solid foods.17
If a child is breastfeeding, they can continue to do so or transition to whole milk.
What if my toddler refuses whole milk, yogurt, or other dairy foods?
It can be concerning for parents if their child weans off breastmilk or infant formula only to refuse whole milk, and even more so if they won’t or cannot consume any other forms of dairy as well.
Expert Tip for getting your little one to eat dairy foods
It’s possible that your toddler would enjoy dairy mixed into their favorite foods, instead of as a stand-alone food or beverage.
Try whole milk or yogurt blended into smoothies, mixed into oatmeal or mashed potatoes, or blended into homemade fruit popsicles.
Recipes to try:
Expert Tip for toddlers who refuse whole milk
Have you tried slightly warming your child’s milk? This may help with better acceptance, especially if your child was breastfed and became used to warm body-temperature milk. If you offer warmed milk, be sure to check its temperature before offering it to your child to ensure it is safe.
You can also offer milk in a different type of cup, such as a sippy cup, straw cup, or open cup. Some children may only accept whole milk in a bottle.
However, note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends being completely weaned off a bottle by between 12 and 18 months.22
Be sure to chat with your child’s pediatrician about this if needed.
Having trouble weaning your little one from the bottle or need ideas for introducing other dairy foods? Reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET). Chat Now!
Does my child have to drink milk or eat dairy?
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that children 12 through 23 months of age consume roughly 2 cups of dairy, such as whole milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese (or dairy equivalent) daily.
This is because the nutrients provided by dairy food products are essential for your child’s health.
Dairy provides protein, fat, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D (if fortified), vitamin B12, potassium, magnesium, and more.18
The good news is that if your little one is allergic to cow’s milk protein or absolutely refuses all dairy foods, all these nutrients can be found in a variety of other whole foods.
One of the most beneficial aspects of dairy is its high calcium content. Calcium is especially necessary for growing bodies as it helps to build healthy bones and teeth.5
Fortunately, there are many sources of calcium that do not include dairy.
Dairy-free foods that contain calcium include: Dark leafy greens, edamame, soybeans, white beans, almond butter, fortified cereal, fortified plant-based milk alternatives, and calcium-fortified tofu.25
And, if your toddler consumes some dairy, such as cheese or yogurt, they’re also getting calcium from those foods.3
Can I give my toddler dairy substitutes?
Some people avoid dairy for personal reasons or because of an allergy or intolerance. There are many dairy substitutes on the market your little one may enjoy, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt alternatives.
However, be aware that these foods often do not have the same nutrient profile as cow’s milk dairy, particularly when it comes to protein and fat, so they should not be considered a replacement.
The focus should be placed on balanced and varied whole foods to get the nutrients that may be lacking.
Also, be aware that many of these dairy-free foods may contain added sugars that are not recommended under 2 years of age.
Read more: What Type of Milk should my Toddler Drink?
Tips to help get the right nutrition if your toddler is refusing dairy
How much calcium does my toddler need?
Toddlers ages 1-3 years need approximately 700 mg of calcium per day.5
Instead of tracking each milligram of calcium that goes into your toddler’s mouth, just aim to provide two to three servings of calcium-containing foods each day, such as edamame*, fortified cereal, or dairy products if your little one eats them.
*Allergen information: Note that edamame, while an alternative source of calcium, is soy.
If you are concerned about allergies, or your child has been diagnosed with allergies, be sure to talk with your child’s healthcare provider before trialing this food.
The other top 9 allergens include: milk, eggs, peanuts, treenuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, and sesame seeds.
Wondering if your toddler is eating a balanced diet? We can help! Chat with our team of registered dietitian nutritionists, fellow moms, and lactation specialists, available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm (ET).Chat now!
How much protein does my toddler need?
Dairy is also a great source of high-quality, complete protein in your toddler’s diet.
Protein needs depend on your child’s age. The average recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is:
Fortunately, protein can be found in many foods, which can help ensure your little one meets protein needs without eating any dairy. Foods such as meat, fish, and eggs also offer high-quality protein.
Examples of servings sizes and protein amounts:
2 tablespoons of beans provide about 1 gram of protein8
½ of an egg provides 3 grams9
¼ cup diced, cooked chicken provides about 10 grams of protein20
1 teaspoon peanut butter* provides about 1.5 grams protein21
Serving sizes for toddlers are small, so think about providing a variety of protein-containing foods throughout the day to help meet their needs.
Read more: Protein: Getting Enough and the Best Sources
*Note that peanut butter is another potential top 9 allergen. Be sure to chat with your child’s pediatrician before introducing them if needed.
What about the other nutrients in whole milk, yogurt, and other dairy foods?
Dairy contains vitamin A, vitamin D (if fortified), vitamin B12, potassium, and magnesium.18 But if your little one doesn’t eat dairy, they can still get these nutrients from other foods.
Vitamin A: Fish, sweet potato, carrots, and eggs10
Vitamin D: Fatty fish like salmon, trout, and mackerel; and egg yolks11
Vitamin B12: Meat, fish, and eggs12
Potassium: Many fruits and vegetables, lentils, and potatoes13
Magnesium: Foods containing fiber, such as fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds14
Does my toddler need a daily multivitamin or calcium supplement?
If your little one is refusing dairy foods and whole milk, it can be overwhelming to think about all the other foods needed to get the nutrients needed. Remember that it’s okay if your little one doesn’t eat every food every day – the goal is to get a variety of foods over the entire week.
If you are concerned that your child is not getting the nutrients they need, discuss you’re your pediatrician whether or not your toddler needs a calcium supplement or a daily multivitamin supplement.115
Know that many toddlers refuse to drink whole milk or eat any dairy products. Fortunately, there are many foods that provide many of the nutrients found in dairy so you can rest assured that your little one is getting what they need to support their growth and development.
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too! They’re here to offer personalized support on our free, one-on-one, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). No appointment needed, no email or sign-up required. Chat Now!
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