Milk and dairy products are the main sources of calcium in our diets. Calcium is a critical mineral kids need to build strong bones, help muscles contract and transmit nerve impulses. When it comes to milk, calcium is only the beginning. Milk is also an excellent source of high-quality protein, with each cup delivering more protein than a large egg. Plus it provides eight other essential nutrients; including several kids don’t get enough of like vitamin D and potassium.
Milk and other dairy products are among the best and most convenient sources of calcium you can find. But just who should get what kind of milk and when?
- Infants under 1-year-old shouldn’t have regular cow’s milk because it doesn’t have the nutrients a growing baby needs. Stick with breast milk or infant formula as your baby’s major source of nutrition during the first year.
- Kids between 1 and 2 years old should have whole milk to help provide the dietary fats they need for normal growth and brain development.
- After age 2, most kids can switch to low-fat or nonfat milk.
The good news is that all milk — from skim to whole — contains about the same amount of calcium per serving (about 300 mg per 8 ounces).
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend:
- 2 cups of milk per day for kids 2 to 3 years
- 2½ cups for kids 4 to 8 years
- 3 cups for kids 9 years and older
Just be sure to choose low-fat options like 1% or non-fat milk for kids over 2 years of age. These deliver all the nutrition of 2% or whole milk with a fraction of the total and saturated fat. That makes them healthier for kids’ hearts and also lower in calories.