It is important to ensure your child gets enough fluid across the day and this can be achieved by offering six to eight drinks (each 100 to 150ml). You may find they need more fluids in warm weather or when exercising. The best drinks for children are milk and water. Water should be offered across the day and tap water is fine to offer.
Children should be offered three portions of dairy foods each day. Milk is included in this category along with cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais, custard, puddings made from milk and milk-based sauces.
- Breast milk can still be offered to children up to and beyond 2 years of age as there are continued benefits for both mother and child
- Whole (full fat) milk should be give to children aged from one to two years as their main drink, to make sure they get enough energy and nutrients
- Semi-skimmed milk can be offered to children over the age of two years if they are growing well and eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Goats’ and sheeps’ milk can be provided for children over the age of one year
What about milk alternatives?
Unsweetened calcium fortified soya drinks can be used as a non-dairy alternative to cow’s milk for children over the age of one year. All milk alternatives (including soya milk alternative) are much lower in energy, and can be lower in some important nutrients, compared to full-fat animal milk, so care needs to be taken that the rest of the diet provides adequate energy. You should seek advice if choosing plant-based milks for very young children as these milks may compromise their energy and nutrient intake, speak to your GP or Health Visitor.
Which Milks to Avoid?
- Unpasteurised milk and milk drinks.
- Children under the age of five should not be given rice drinks as they have been found to contain small amounts of arsenic.
- Skimmed milk should not be given to children under 5. Children over 5 should only be offered skimmed milk if they are growing well.
Toddler milks and growing-up milks contain more sugar than animal milk and less important nutrients such as calcium and iodine. Experts across Europe agree that young children do not need toddler milks to obtain particular nutrients and that food and drinks in the diet will provide children with the nutrition they need (with the exception of vitamin D). There is some evidence that giving extra nutrients in fortified drinks to children who don’t need them may be bad for their health in the longer term. Offering sweetened drinks to young children may also contribute to the development of a sweet tooth and becoming overweight in childhood.
How much Milk to Offer?
Children over one year of age should have no more than 350-500mls of cows milk each day, including any milk in foods. Children over 2 years may have less than 1 year olds. More than 500ml of milk is likely to spoil a your child’s appetite for other foods and could worsen any fussy eating behaviours. If a child over the age of one wakes in the night, they should only be offered water as this will help to protect their teeth and ensure it doesn’t reduce their appetite for food during the day. It is important not to replace foods with milk if your child is fussy/picky at mealtimes. Otherwise they may continue to refuse family foods as they know they’ll be given something different.
It is suggested that at 1-2 years, children can have around 400mls of cows’ milk a day. The 400mls might be made up of a drink in the morning, milk with snacks, and a drink before bed or a nap, depending on how you manage your child’s eating and sleeping patterns across the day. If breast milk is your child’s main milk drink, there is no need to know how much milk they are receiving, as the intake will naturally adapt around food consumption. You may breastfeed in the morning and at night and offer a smaller amount of cows’ milk during the day. Children aged 2-4 years probably need about 300-350ml of milk a day as they will eat bigger portions of food at meals, may need fewer or shorter daytime naps, or not want a drink before bed. Large amounts of cows’ milk, particularly when given in a bottle, are linked to poorer dietary habits in young children, who won’t have the appetite for foods at meals. Remember if children are having other dairy foods across the day, for example a yoghurt and cheese, then children may just need less milk.
What cups should I use?
Use an open top cup or beaker when offering all drinks to children over the age of one. If using a lidded cup, it should be free flowing without a valve, to encourage children to sip rather than suck, as this is better for their teeth.
For more information on nutrition for toddlers
Parents can sign up to our e-guide and/or webinar here