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10 Best Non-Dairy Milk Options for Toddlers

As a parent of a food allergic child, finding suitable alternatives to traditional dairy milk can be a challenge. Non-dairy milk options have become increasingly popular in recent years, but not all of them are suitable for toddlers. In this article, we will explore the top 10 best non-dairy milk options for toddlers, taking into consideration their nutritional value, taste, and suitability for children with food allergies. Whether you are looking for a milk alternative for your child's daily meals or just need something for occasional use, this list has got you covered. We hope that this information will help you make informed decisions about your child's diet and keep them healthy and happy.


Does My Toddler Even Need a Milk or Milk Alternative?


It's important to note that milk and milk alternatives are not essential for a toddler's diet. Toddlers can get all the nutrients they need from a varied diet that includes a variety of foods from the different food groups. This can include protein sources such as beans, tofu, eggs, and nuts; grains such as bread, rice, and pasta; fruits and vegetables; and healthy fats from sources such as avocado and olive oil. In addition, most toddlers will also be able to get sufficient calcium from other sources such as leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fortified foods. While milk and milk alternatives can be a convenient and tasty source of nutrients, they are not necessary for a healthy diet and can be replaced with other nutrient-dense foods.


While milk and milk alternatives are not essential for a toddler's diet, they can still provide a variety of benefits. Milk and milk alternatives are a good source of protein, which is important for growth and development. They can also provide important nutrients such as calcium, which is necessary for strong bones and teeth, and vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. In addition, milk and milk alternatives can be a convenient and tasty way to hydrate, particularly for picky eaters who may not be getting enough fluids from other sources. While it's important to choose options that are appropriate for a toddler's age and dietary needs, they can be a valuable addition to a well-rounded diet.


What Options Do I Have if my Toddler Reacts to Dairy?


Non-dairy milk alternatives have become increasingly popular in recent years, and there are now a wide variety of options available for toddlers. In the below table, we have compiled a list of the 10 best non-dairy milk options for toddlers, taking into consideration their nutritional value, taste, and suitability for children with food allergies [1]. The table includes information about the number of calories per 1 cup serving, fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals content of each milk alternative. We hope that this information will help you make informed decisions about your child's diet and keep them healthy and happy. It's important to note that the nutritional content of human milk can vary depending on the specific mother's diet and other factors. The nutritional content of each milk alternative may also vary based on the brand and variety, so it's always a good idea to read labels and consult with a healthcare professional before introducing any new foods to your child's diet.

Diving Deeper into the Alternatives


This list may even make you feel like there are TOO MANY options now! We think it is better to have too much information than not enough. Additionally, each kiddo will have their own unique set of food triggers so an alternative that works for one may not work for another.


Human milk: Continuing to breast/body feed past the first year is a great option for many food allergy families and it is no surprise that it tops our list! Human milk can provide additional nutrients and immunological protection for the child, as the composition of our milk changes to meet the changing needs of the child [2].


Families also find breast/body feeding to be incredibly valuable for navigating reactions, hydration, feeding aversions, and more. Human milk can help protect against a variety of illnesses, including respiratory and ear infections, allergies, and certain types of cancer. Nursing and pumping can also have benefits for lactating parents, including a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It's important to note that breast/body feeding is not always possible or desirable for all parents, and there are many other ways to provide proper nutrition and care for a child. Read more about the benefits and drawbacks of elimination diets while nursing a food allergy baby.


Soy milk: This type of milk is made from soybeans and is a good source of protein. Unfortunately, many children who react to cow’s milk also respond to soy due to the similarity in some proteins which make them up [3]. If you suspect your little one may be reactive to soy, don’t miss our piece on soy allergies.


Almond milk: Almond milk is made from ground almonds and is a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E and calcium.


Oat milk: Oat milk is made from oats and is a good source of fiber and nutrients. It has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor and can be a good option for children who are allergic to soy and/or nuts. Be aware that some oat milk varieties may contain traces of gluten depending on the oat source.


Coconut milk: Coconut milk is made from the flesh of coconuts and has a rich, creamy texture. It is high in fat and therefore is recommended to be used in moderation, but can be a good option for children who are allergic to other types of milk.

Rice milk: Rice milk is made from ground rice and has a slightly sweet, subtle flavor. It is lower in protein and fat than cow's milk while being much higher in carbohydrates.


Hemp milk: Hemp milk is made from ground hemp seeds and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, Hemp’s 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid (FA) is nearly ideal [4].


Flax milk: Flax milk is made from ground flaxseeds and is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.


Pea milk: Pea milk is made from yellow peas and is a good source of protein. It has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor.


Quinoa milk: Quinoa milk is made from ground quinoa. Chenopodium quinoa, a pseudocereal from the Andes region of South America, mainly Peru and Bolivia, has been gaining attention worldwide due to its nutritional content and crop tolerance to extreme climatic conditions. It is a rich source of protein (12-16.5%) with protein quality equivalent to that of casein [5].


These may also be homemade from scratch. This has the benefit of avoiding added ingredients which may be a concern, however this means the milk source will not contain the same fortifications as listed in the table.


Can We Still Try a Different Mammalian Milk?


A very common question we get is, "If my child reacts to cow's milk, will they be okay with goat or sheep options?". As with all things food allergy: it depends.


Reactivity to cow's milk is almost always due to a response to the proteins in it. All foods are built of numerous proteins and each individual has reactions when exposed to a specific portion of a particular protein that the immune system has deemed as "bad". This is important to know because it helps us understand why some may be perfectly fine with goats milk while others may not.



The proteins which make up goat and sheep milk are most similar to that of cow's milk which means there is a high probability for what is known as cross-reactivity [6]. In other words, a reaction to cow's milk increases the likelihood of issues with goat and sheep milks. There is a chance your child could tolerate either. Some parents choose to trial and find out while others prefer to move on to an option more commonly tolerated.


What About Junior Formulas Created for Toddlers?


There are also formula options available for toddlers. The benefit to a toddler formula over other non-dairy milk alternatives such as seed and nut milks is that they are considered nutritionally complete, meaning they contain all of the necessary nutrients for growth and development. Unfortunately, these are expensive and sometimes less convenient. Below is an overview of common allergy-friendly toddler formulas.

Neocate Junior: This formula is made with corn syrup solids broken down to amino acids to make them easier to tolerate. Neocate Toddler also contains palm kernel and/or coconut oil, high oleic sunflower oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil.


Neocate Splash: Splash is a ready-to-feed option, making it more suitable for easy tube feeding while having similar composition to Neocate Junior.


Nutramigen Toddler: Also a corn syrup solids powder broken down to amino acids. Nutramigen Toddler also contains palm olein, coconut, soy, and sunflower oils, casein hydrolysate*, fructose, modified corn starch, and mortierella alpina oil. *also broken down


Similac Alimentum Toddler: This formula is made from corn maltodextrin and hydrolyzed cow’s milk protein casein. It also contains sugar, high oleic safflower oil, medium chain triglycerides, and soy oil.


EleCare Toddler: Amino acids from corn syrup solids make up EleCare Toddler. This option also contains high oleic safflower oil, medium chain triglycerides, and soy oil.


Essential Care Junior: This formula is made with tapioca food starch broken down to amino acids. Essential Care Jr also contains tapioca syrup solids, high oleic canola oil, and medium chain triglycerides.


Many of these formulas also come in a variety of flavors such as vanilla, citrus, grape, and even chocolate. If your little is under a year old, you can learn more about infant hypoallergenic formulas here.


Understanding the Recommended Dietary Allowances for Toddlers: A Guide for Parents


Are you wondering how much of each nutrient your toddler should be getting on a daily basis? The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) established by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences can help [7]. These reference values for nutrient intake are based on scientific evidence and are regularly reviewed and updated as new research becomes available. They are used by healthcare professionals, policy makers, and nutrition researchers to help plan and assess the nutrient intakes of groups and individuals.


In the United States, the DRIs are used to develop the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), which are the recommended daily intake levels for essential nutrients that are intended to meet the needs of nearly all healthy individuals in a particular life stage and gender group. Based on the RDAs for children 1-3 years old, we've created a table with the recommended daily intake. Keep in mind that these recommendations are general guidelines and may vary depending on your child's specific needs and activities.

As a parent, it's natural to have questions and concerns about your child's nutrition and overall health. Choosing the right milk or milk alternative for your toddler can be especially confusing, given the many different options available and the importance of considering factors such as nutritional value, taste, and suitability for food allergies. If you are looking for personalized advice and guidance about your child's diet, we recommend scheduling a consultation with one of our Free to Feed experts in food allergies, nutrition, lactation and more. Our experts are trained professionals who can provide you with accurate and up-to-date information about the best milk and milk alternatives for you and your child's specific needs and help you make informed decisions. Don't hesitate to reach out to us for support and guidance – we are here to help you and your child thrive.


References:

  1. Astolfi, Maria Luisa, et al. "Comparative elemental analysis of dairy milk and plant-based milk alternatives." Food Control 116 (2020): 107327.

  2. Mosca, Fabio, and Maria Lorella Giannì. "Human milk: composition and health benefits." (2017): 47-52.

  3. Candreva, Angela María, et al. "Cross-reactivity between the soybean protein p34 and bovine caseins." Allergy, asthma & immunology research 7.1 (2015): 60-68.

  4. Vahanvaty, Umme Salma. "Hemp seed and hemp milk: the new super foods?." ICAN: Infant, Child, & Adolescent Nutrition 1.4 (2009): 232-234.

  5. Kaur, Intelli, and Beenu Tanwar. "Quinoa beverages: Formulation, processing and potential health benefits." Romanian Journal of Diabetes Nutrition and Metabolic Diseases 23.2 (2016): 215-225.

  6. El-Agamy, E. I. "The challenge of cow milk protein allergy." Small Ruminant Research 68.1-2 (2007): 64-72.

  7. Meyers, Linda D., Jennifer Pitzi Hellwig, and Jennifer J. Otten, eds. Dietary reference intakes: the essential guide to nutrient requirements. National Academies Press, 2006.

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