An age-wise guide to selecting milk for your child

When is it safe to give the child cow's milk? Is there any merit in using the Growing up milk? Let's find out.

On a Sunday, a few months back, I was at the local supermarket, trying to select milk for my toddler. And I must confess, I have never felt more lost in life! At the back of my mind, I also had the recommended daily intake of dairy products for kids.

There were so many types and brands of milk to choose from. How could I make a choice? So, I just picked up a can of regular, full-cream milk, something I was sure my toddler could have, and I headed home to do my research.

Age-wise recommended daily intake of dairy products

Before we move on to choosing the right milk for your little one, let's check what is the recommended daily intake of dairy products for different age groups.

recommended daily intake of dairy products What is the recommended daily intake of dairy products? | Image: Screengrab from Nutrition Australia

And when we talk about one serving of milk, it implies 250 ml. Do remember that the recommended daily intake of dairy products for kids of various age groups is different. 

recommended daily intake of dairy products Recommended daily intake of dairy products: How much is one serving? | Image: Screengrab from Nutrition Australia

Recommended daily intake of dairy products: Types of milk on the shelf of a supermarket

If you filter out the marketing jargon, you find that there are just 5 types of milk available in the supermarket. But not all are suitable for your child. Furthermore, if you go through any 'milk' on the shelf, it can be classified as one of these.

  1. Fresh milk
  2. Filled milk
  3. Formula
  4. Special formula
  5. Non-dairy milk

I will introduce each briefly.

1# Fresh milk

This includes pasteurised milk, UHT, and powdered milk. The three are more or less similar in nutrition, especially calcium. So, don't worry if you have to choose one over the other. Depending on the level of fats, the pasteurised milk is classified as full-cream milk, generally with a blue cap, semi-skimmed milk, usually with a green cap, and skimmed milk, generally with a red cap. 

2# Filled milk

When milk is reconstituted with fats from vegetable origin it is called Filled milk. Many times, the evaporated milk that we use is filled milk. For the sake of convenience, I am also classifying evaporated and condensed milk here.

The lifeline of my favourite kopi, condensed milk is rich in sugar. Evaporated milk is not fit for consumption on its own anyway. Filled milk is often reconstituted with palm oil, and is often rich in saturated fats.  

3# Formula

Formulas are often made from cow's milk and are formulated by the age. Stage 1 formula is meant for infants 0-6 months, Stage 2 formula between 6-12 months. Stage 3 formula onwards is collectively termed as growing-up milk. Though they are fortified with calcium and other nutrients, many health authorities think that growing up milk is not essential for the toddler if he has full-cream milk as the GUMs contain unnecessary sugars.

4# Special formulas

These are formulas designed for children who have a medical indication. Experts may recommend these because such kids cannot tolerate the routine formula/breastmilk. These are not meant for children who can tolerate regular formulas. These are

(i) Soy-Based Formula.  Useful for children who are allergic to bovine proteins.

(ii) Lactose-Free Formula. Meant for lactose intolerant babies.

(iii) Extensively Hydrolysed Formula (EHF) or Partially hydrolysed formula. Meant for children who are allergic to proteins in the milk, these formulas contain proteins that are broken down to easily digestible units. This makes it easy for babies with severe inflammatory bowel diseases or cow milk allergies

(iv) Hypoallergenic Formula. This is meant for infants with allergies or who have a family history of allergies to milk proteins. Even though Soy-based formulas are not completely hypoallergenic, they are sometimes used in infants who tolerate them well.

(v) Anti-regurgitation formula. This is meant for infants who may suffer from GERD and have a tendency to throw up. This formula is a bit thicker than usual and sits better in the stomach.

Clearly, these are not 'premium' formulas, so don't use them unless recommended by your doctor.

5# Non-dairy milk

This includes all the commercially available plant-based milk you see in the store. They are extracted from soy, quinoa, almonds, rice, coconut, among other things. These are meant for adults, so avoid them for children, even if you are vegan. 

Recommended daily intake of dairy products: What milk should I buy for my child?

For a child up to 12 years, you need to include milk in the diet. Even after that, milk is an important source of calcium, so don't forget to offer him 2 glasses of milk every day. 

Here is a quick table according to the ages, based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization, NHS UK, HPB Singapore, and the European Food Safety Authority. 

To sum it up: 

  • Before your child is 1, you should not use any type of fresh cow's milk.
  • After he turns 1, start full-cream cow's milk.
  • After the age of 2-3, you can switch to semi-skimmed cow's milk.

Also, after the age of 1, your child needs only 3 portions of dairy. So, don't fill him up with milk. Moreover, he needs to derive his nutrition from solid food.  

I hope this helps you choose the right milk for your baby. And do keep the recommended daily intake of dairy products in mind, in this case, one serving of milk is 250 ml.

Also, read How much milk should baby drink: Breast vs. bottle