Alternative milk choices


As good as it may be for them, some kids just can't drink cow's milk. An allergy or lactose intolerance may have some parents looking for one of the many alternative milk choices that are now on the market.

Cleveland Clinic Children's Pediatric Registered Dietitian Tara Harwood says the first step in choosing an alternative milk is to make sure it has protein and fat.

"Not all of the alternative milks both of those. A lot of them only have 1 to no grams of protein in it and most of them don't have fat," she explained.

Harwood says kids 2 and under need the protein and fat for development. She says flax milk with protein and hemp milk contain both the protein and fat kids need, but she admits that hemp milk may take some getting used to because it is a little grainier than other milks.

Soy milk is packed with protein, but very little fat. To get around this, Harwood recommends adding a little vegetable or olive oil to increase the fat content. She says kids need healthy fats for brain development.

After age two, if your child is maintaining a healthy weight, they can make the switch to other alternative milks like coconut, rice or almond milk.

"But still look at your child's diet. If they aren't consuming a lot of protein they still may be missing that, so you want to look for a milk that has protein in it. However, the fat isn't as big of a deal once they are over the age of 2," said Harwood.

She says for school-aged kids and teenagers; their alternative milk choice will usually come down to taste. Harwood says you can hide the milk in smoothies or change the flavor yourself.

"They make these great flavor straws that are milk-free and what it does is it has these little flavor crystals in it and your child can suck it up through the flavor straw," she suggested.

Harwood says it's also ok to use powdered flavoring or even flavor syrups because the nutritional benefits of the milk is what matters most. And if you're not sure what nutritional profile fits your child's needs, talk to your pediatrician, or a pediatric dietitian.