beverages for children

A client of mine requested help with her young daughter, who seemed uninterested in almost all food. When I asked how much milk she drank, she told me that her daughter loved milk and drank it all day long. This little girl was getting all her calories from milk! I advised this mother to limit the girl’s milk intake to the recommended amount. The next week, she enthusiastically reported that her daughter started to eat nearly everything she was offered!

Beverages should follow the principles of balance and moderation.

Use the following as guiding principles:

  • Provide unlimited access to water throughout the day to satisfy thirst.
  • Juice belongs in the “sometimes” category along with other sugar-sweetened beverages. Contrary to popular belief, children do not need juice. It is far better for them to eat fruit. Don’t forget the effect of processing. Nutritional value is lost each time a food is processed.
  • Provide milk at meals
  • For children under one, stick to either breastmilk or infant formula
  • For children between one and two, stick to either breastmilk, infant formula, or whole fat cow’s milk.Children at this age need the balance of nutrients found in these milks. Most children at age one rely on milk for about 50% of their calories. If there is a reason you feel your child is not thriving on any of these options, please speak to your paediatrician or go to a dietitian for further direction.
  • For a child over two, you can stick to breast milk or whole milk, or switch to 2% cow’s milk or other milk alternatives (soy, almond, goat’s, etc)

In general, there should not be any minimums or maximums set on food for children to eat. But milk can be a delicate situation. The recommended amount for milk intake for children over the age of two is 500-750ml per day. This translates to 2-3 cups or 16-24 oz per day.

why should milk be limited?

  • Some children become “milk-o-holics”
  • Drinking too much milk may cause iron deficiency
  • Milk is low in iron
  • Reduced appetite for high iron foods

Additionally, milk should be limited to mealtimes for dental health. Remember, the more often teeth are in contact with food, the more likely decay is to develop. Water doesn’t cause decay.

what if your child is on the opposite side and doesn’t care for milk?

Continue to offer milk but don’t force it. Children can get the calcium they need from dairy foods such as cheese and yogurt. If your child won’t eat any dairy foods, consult your pediatrician or a dietitian.


Are your children consuming milk in the recommended range (500-750ml)?

If you aren’t certain, measure out how much your child drinks in a 24 hour period, then adjust the amount accordingly.

If your child is used to drinking unlimited milk, she might protest when you start to limit it. You can either pour a set amount at each meal, or allow your child to drink the maximum daily amount at one meal and then not offer it at the other meals during the day.

If your children are old enough to have a discussion, decide with them which they prefer. It doesn’t have to be the same plan everyday. One day they can drink all their milk at breakfast and then the next prefer to have smaller amounts at each meal. But the daily maximum should always be respected.