If your child is like most kids, nearly a quarter of his or her daily calories come from beverages. But how much nutrition do those drinks deliver? While milk was once the go-to gulp for most kids, it’s increasingly being pushed to the sidelines, with the average child drinking between 5 and 10 ounces of sweetened soft drinks a day instead.
“When milk is absent from the dinner table or ends up in the lunchroom trash can, kids don’t get the calcium and vitamin D they need to build strong bones,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, M.P.H., R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And calcium and vitamin D aren’t the only child-friendly nutrients in your milk jug. It’s also a top source of protein, needed to support children’s rapid growth.
How Much Milk?
It doesn’t take too much. Two cups for children ages 4 to 8 and 3 cups after age 9. But if your child just says no, get creative. Many kids who won’t drink milk will happily eat yogurt and cheese (you can swap 1½ ounces of cheese or a cup of yogurt for an 8-ounce glass of milk). They’ll also usually drink chocolate milk. If you’re concerned about extra sugar, make your own lighter version by stirring a couple teaspoons of chocolate syrup into low-fat or fat-free milk.
Other Calcium Options
At meals and snacks, serve up dairy-filled foods such as low-fat pudding, cream of tomato soup, grilled cheese, lasagna, stuffed shells and macaroni and cheese. To drink, calcium-fortified orange juice, soymilk, almond milk and rice milk often supply the same amount of calcium and vitamin D that milk does. In addition, many non-dairy foods like broccoli, bok choy, figs, almonds and fortified cereals are also good calcium sources.
Just realize that some of these don’t always supply vitamin D, so check the Nutrition Facts label. If you’re still concerned that your child may not be getting enough of these critical nutrients a registered dietitian can customize a plan to fit your child’s individual needs.