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How much milk does your child drink in a day, and how much is enough for healthy development?

According to the Chinese Nutrition Society, children aged 2 to 5 should be consuming two servings, or 240 ml, to get their recommended daily intakes of vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc.

But a February 2018 study that analyzed the diets of 302 Hong Kong kindergarten children found they were only having 1.6 servings per day, resulting in “significantly lower” amounts of these essential nutrients.

The conclusion drawn by The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital and the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation—was that our children need better-quality diets.

Given their findings, do your kids need to consume more milk and dairy? Let’s dig into this topic a bit further.

The vitamin D and calcium in milk help develop strong bones and teeth

Why Milk?

The reason why milk and related products are recommended by doctors, nutrition experts and the Hong Kong Department of Health is that they are often the main source of nutrients needed for essential brain and bone development, including vitamin D, calcium, zinc, protein, potassium and fatty acids.

Table detailing the nutrition facts for milk

For more on the importance of Vitamin D and how to make sure your kids are getting the right amount, check out: Let’s Talk About Vitamin D

How Much Milk Should My Kids Drink?

Experts generally advise that children younger than 1 not drink cow’s milk because it is difficult for their bodies to digest. Rather, they should be breastfeeding or drinking iron-fortified formula (whether based on cow’s milk, soy or rice depending on any allergies or intolerances).

See our article, An Introduction to Infant Nutrition, for more on feeding your baby in the first 12 months.

From 1-2 years old, doctors typically recommend serving whole milk because the higher fat content helps babies’ brains and nervous systems develop properly. One to one-and-a-half servings per day (240 to 360 ml) should provide adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D.

After age 2 you can switch to low-fat milk (1 or 2%), assuming your child is getting enough fat from the rest of their diet.

From age 2 to adulthood (age 18), the Hong Kong Department of Health advises two servings of milk and alternatives per day for a total of 480 ml.

According to the Hong Kong Dietitians Association (HKDA), the calcium found in milk products is easier to absorb than calcium from other food sources.

Dietary intake is also recommended over supplementation, which is only advised for those who cannot obtain enough calcium from their diet.

Keep an eye on how much milk your child has per day. After they consume the recommended amount for their age, it’s best to switch to water as excess calories and fat could lead to unhealthy weight gain.

What If My Child Can’t Drink Milk?

If your child is vegan, lactose intolerant or has an allergy to cow’s milk, there are plenty of alternative sources of calcium, vitamin D and other essential nutrients.

Leafy greens contain high amounts of calcium

The HKDA advises adding calcium-fortified soy milk and sesame powder to oatmeal, having low-fat cheese or baked beans on toast, consuming more leafy green vegetables, and eating more soybean products and fish with bones.

The recommended daily intake of calcium is 600 mg for ages 2 to 3, and 800 mg for ages 4 to 5. Following are foods that can contribute to your children’s intake.

Table detailing the calcium comparison in different types of foods

Vitamin D, which promotes absorption of calcium, is found in few food sources besides oily fish, oysters and egg yolks (all of which are high in fat and cholesterol).

The HKDA therefore advises 15 to 20 minutes of daily sun exposure without sunscreen to promote synthesis of vitamin D, or supplementation with fish oil capsules.

 

Remember, the best first step is to talk to your pediatrician, clinical nutritionist or comparable health professional regarding your child’s individual needs.

They can test for any nutrient deficiencies, review dietary habits, and offer advice on adjusting eating habits and whether to consider supplementation.

For more useful health info, read Do You Need To Supplement Your Child’s Diet?