Pour More Milk

Are Your Kids Falling Short On Nutrients They Need? Pour More Milk

Nutrition for kids can be confusing. Moms receive all kinds of well-intentioned advice about healthy eating for kids — from their own moms, close friends on Facebook, celebrities on Instagram and of course, the news media. These different opinions on child nutrition, combined with busy schedules and picky eaters at home can make it challenging to know exactly what to do to make sure your kids get the nutrients they need.  

Thankfully, a new set of expert guidelines from Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids has made one aspect of nutrition for kids – what they should drink – a lot less confusing, recommending real milk (along with water) as the best drink for young children’s health because of its unmatched package of natural nutrients growing bodies need – like high quality protein,  calcium, B vitamins and more.[i] These guidelines (co-developed by leading health organizations) also caution against exclusive substitution with dairy-free plant-based alternatives, like almond, oat or coconut milk, warning parents that even if they’re fortified, these drinks are not nutritionally equal to real milk.

Moms all want to do what’s best for their child’s health, especially when it comes to providing healthy food for kids through meals and snacks they like. You may get inspiration from celebrity websites, books and blogs, some of which may encourage you to follow their lead and adopt dairy-free diets. However, many moms don’t realize these dairy-free milk alternatives do not have the same nutrients as real, dairy milk. Others may only offer water– a great source of hydration –not realizing that serving milk is an excellent opportunity to give their kids key nutrients they need to grow, like calcium and vitamin D. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages milk at most meals, and water in between.

The reality is that not providing good nutrition for kids is a health issue. One out of two children ages nine and older are falling short on calcium, vitamin D and potassium, and 75 percent of kids younger than nine are falling short on vitamin D and potassium. These nutrients are critical for children’s health. So much so that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified them as nutrients of public health concern because many Americans, including kids, are not consuming enough. [ii]

Not getting enough of these important nutrients could have health implications – especially for kids and young adults. A dairy-free diet during critical growing years could have multiple effects on child health, including not reaching their full height potential, an increase in stress fractures during adolescence, and a greater chance of osteoporosis as an adult.[iii], [iv], [v], [vi]

Experts Recommend Milk as a Good Source of Potassium, Calcium and Vitamin D Intake

Research shows it’s really hard for kids to get enough of these nutrients without milk.[vii] Milk is the top food source for calcium, vitamin D and potassium, and it offers some of the highest quality protein available.[viii],[ix] Eighty-five percent of Americans fall short of the recommended daily servings of milk, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. [x],[xi]

But how many servings of milk or milk products do kids really need?


12-24 months old

2-3 years old

4-8 years old

9-18 years old




2 ½


Experts agree milk remains a great way for kids to get their bone-building nutrients – even more so than dairy-free milk alternatives fortified with calcium.[xii] And, substituting milk with non-dairy calcium sources like fortified soy milk and leafy greens can lead to gaps in other key nutrients like protein, vitamin D, phosphorus, riboflavin, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin B12.[xiii]  Non-dairy milks do not have the same nutritional value as real milk. Only real dairy milk offers the same array of bone-building nutrients – calcium, vitamin D,  protein and phosphorus – for only 25 cents a glass.

Many kids are picky, so serving enough kale, spinach or sardines to replace the calcium in real milk may not be on the kids’ menu. Also, very few foods supply vitamin D kids need. Instead of attempting to replace the calcium by feeding your kids 10 cups of raw spinach, know that a glass of milk paired with their after school snack or meal provides balanced nutrition for kids — and they love how it tastes.

Avoid the Risks of Going Dairy Free and Give Kids What They Love

The good news for you? Kids love milk. They love the taste and they love the way it makes them feel. In fact, 41 percent of kids would drink more milk.[xiv]

Want easy ways to make sure your kids get the nutrients they need?

  • Pair after school snacks with a glass of milk – it’s an easy and delicious way to add nutrients they need AND tame your little hangry monsters.
  • Serve milk at meal times to ensure children get the vital nutrients they need.
  • Add milk to a smoothie. It’s an easy way to add protein to breakfast or a snack (8g protein/8oz serving).
  • Swap out water for milk to add high-quality protein plus other nutrients when making oatmeal. When you make old-fashioned oatmeal with milk instead of water, you add 8 grams of high quality protein plus 8 additional nutrients for every 8 ounces  you use.
  • Use it to make creamier macaroni and cheese or soup. It’s a wholesome, simple ingredient that’s already the foundation of many meals kids love.
  • Look for inspiration and more milk recipes.


[i] Healthy Drinks Healthy Kids. Parents and Caregivers. Retrieved from https://healthydrinkshealthykids.org/parents/

[ii] U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Appendix E-2.1. First Print, 2015.

[iii] Wiley AS.  Does milk make children grow? Relationships between milk consumption and height in NHANES 1999-2002. American Journal of Human Biology. 2005;17:425-441.

[iv] Ruffing JA, et al. Determinants of bone mass and bone size in a large cohort of physically active young adult men. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2006;3:14.

[v] Rockell JE, Williams SM, Taylor RW, Grant AM, Jones IE, Goulding A. Two-year changes in bone and body composition in young children with a history of prolonged milk avoidance. Osteoporosis International. 2004;16:1016-1023.

[vi] Goulding A, Rockell JE, Black RE, Grant AM, Jones IE, Williams SM. Children who avoid drinking cow's milk are at increased risk for prepubertal bone fractures. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2004;104:250-253.

[vii] Gao X, Wilde PE, Lichtenstein AH, Tucker KL. Meeting adequate intake for dietary calcium without dairy foods in adolescents aged 9 to 18 years (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2002). Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2006;106:1759-1765.

[viii] Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Quann EE, Auestad N. Food sources of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and potassium in the U.S. The FASEB Journal. 2010;24;325.1.

[ix] Mathai K, Liu Y, Stein H. Values for digestible indispensable amino acid scores (DIAAS) for some dairy and plant proteins may better describe protein quality than values calculated using the concept for protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS). British Journal of Nutrition. 2017;64:799-805.

[x] Krebs-Smith SM, Guenther PM, Subar AF, Kirkpatrick SI, Dodd KW. Americans do not meet federal dietary recommendations. Journal of Nutrition. 2010;140:1832-1838.

[xi] U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015. 8th Edition, 2015.

[xii] Golden NH, Abrams SAl. Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2014;134:e1229-e1243.

[xiii] Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Auestad N, Quann EE. Nutrients from dairy foods are difficult to replace in diets of Americans: food pattern modeling and an analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2006. Nutrition Research. 2011;31:759-765.

[xiv] MilkPEP research with study of 2,400 moms and 1,500 kids.