Kids and milk: too much?

Milk can be a concern if it replaces other healthy foods

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Can you have too much milk?

Yes, says dietitian Helen Yeung, a community nutritionist with the infant/child/youth program for Vancouver Coastal Health. Kids who really love their milk fill up on it, which means they may miss out on important nutrients contained in other foods. These “milk babies” look fine on a growth chart because they’re getting protein, calories and fat from milk, says Yeung. “But quite often they turn out to be iron deficient because they’re not eating meat, eggs, beans or other good sources of iron.”

Another problem associated with a mostly milk diet is constipation, says Yeung. Milk has no fibre and fibre keeps the digestive tract moving. It’s derived from plant foods, including whole-grain cereals, beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables.

How much milk should kids drink? Canada’s Food Guide recommends that children in this age group consume, as part of a balanced diet, two servings a day of milk or alternatives. One serving is:

• 1 cup (250 mL) milk or fortified soy beverage
• ¾ cup (175 mL) yogurt
• 1½ oz (42 g) cheese

Get rid of the bottle

If you’ve got a milk lover on your hands, here are some tips from Yeung to get him to drink less and hopefully enjoy some other foods:

Get rid of the bottle. Bottles make it easier for kids to carry milk around with them, increasing consumption. A large 250 mL bottle holds more than one serving.

Establish a routine

Sticking to a snack and meal routine, and only serving milk at these times, can help you keep track of how much milk your child is drinking, says Yeung. Aim for three meals and three snacks a day. Three-year-old Eloise loves cereal with milk for breakfast and, sometimes, more milk in a glass. She usually has milk with her other meals, but, says her mom, Monique Boissiere, “I give her just a bit to start and don’t refill her cup until she’s eaten some of her food.”

Offer variety

Aim for something from at least three of the four food groups at each meal and snack. If you serve cheese, crackers and carrot sticks at morning snack, try peanut butter, apple and bread in the afternoon. A varied diet is more fun and more satisfying, says Yeung. Tackle thirst by offering water between meals and snacks, and especially within an hour of mealtimes. Be careful not to replace milk with juice; the recommendation is that preschoolers consume no more than ½ cup (125 mL) of juice a day. Make mealtimes fun. Yeung says kids are more likely to eat well when mealtimes are a happy family affair and eaten at the table.

I don’t like milk!

A child who is lactose intolerant or just doesn’t like dairy products needs other foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D, says Vancouver community dietitian Helen Yeung. Calcium-rich foods include chickpeas, almond butter, dark green vegetables and leafy greens. If your child doesn’t drink milk, your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement. Fortified soy drink is also a good alternative.

If your child complains of stomach aches after drinking milk, or experiences gas, bloating or diarrhea, he may be lactose intolerant. “It’s more common in African, Aboriginal, Asian and Latin American children,” says Yeung.