MARCH 9, 2020 — A new drink started appearing in the grocery store aisle stocked for little kids. It’s called toddler milk or toddler formula, and it’s marketed as the “next step” or “follow-up” to formula. Some choose it for picky eaters.
Toddler milk comes in bottles of liquid or containers of powder. Either way, your toddlers don’t need this drink that often contains added sugar and can be more expensive than regular milk.
“Research shows that what children drink — from birth through age 5 — can have a big impact on their health,” said the recent Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids report. The report recommends serving only water and plain, whole cow’s milk to children after age 1, and water and fat-free or low-fat plain milk after age 2.
Toddler milk is not recommended for children ages 5 and younger, stated the Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids report issued from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Heart Association, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Do toddlers really need a special milk?
According to the report, toddler milks offer no nutritional benefit over other healthy drinks and foods. Toddler milks usually contain powdered milk, calorie-containing sweeteners, vegetable oil, and added vitamins and minerals, stated a related fact sheet. They can be higher in sodium but lower in protein than whole cow’s milk.
Jessilyn Dunegan is a Southcentral Foundation pediatric dietitian who works with parents of young children.
“I have had many families ask about utilizing toddler formulas or milk supplements due to concerns the child will not otherwise be able to meet their nutritional requirement,” Dunegan said. “I find that adding these to the child’s diet often replaces calories and nutrients the child would get from whole foods instead.”
Picky eating, although stressful for parents, does not usually lead to a lack of vitamins and nutrients in young children.
“Offering your child well-balanced meals and snacks that include 2-3 servings of dairy per day is enough to meet the nutritional requirements of normal developing toddlers, even for picky eaters,” Dunegan said.
Toddler milks have added sugar that little kids don’t need
Toddler milks do not add any nutritional value to a child’s diet, but they do add sugar. One of the main ingredients in toddler milks is sugar, usually in the form of corn syrup solids and other sweeteners.
Drinks with added sugars — such as soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks and toddler milks — can increase a child’s risk of serious health problems. Drinking sugary beverages in early childhood can lead to cavities in teeth, weight gain and obesity, and other health problems that develop during a lifetime.
Toddler milk is not “grown-up” infant formula
Toddler milks are promoted as formula for children ages 1-3, but toddler milk and infant formula are not the same thing. The ingredients in infant formulas are regulated by the federal government to meet specific standards. Toddler milks do not need to meet the same standards as infant formula. In addition to added sugars, toddler milks typically contain added fats and salt (called sodium on the Nutrition Facts label).
Serving young children foods and drinks with added sugar, fat and salt can lead to a lifelong preference for these tastes. Dietitians recommend that toddlers learn how to eat and enjoy healthy foods and drinks. If parents are concerned about their child’s nutrition, they should talk to their pediatrician or a dietitian and consider serving healthy foods and drinks instead of toddler milk.
Find out more about toddler milks from the Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids Toddler Milks Fact Sheet.
Read more about the new Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids national recommendations for children ages 5 and younger.