Parents: Regular Milk and Water Is Best for Kids

Milk alternatives aren't good for your child's growth + development
Little boy drinking milk

Although it can be challenging at times, parents know a healthy diet is key for their child’s growth and development. And now, recommendations are saying that what your child drinks matters just as much as what they eat.

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There are two main drinks that dietitians recommend for growing kids — water and traditional cow’s milk.

It’s recommended parents steer clear of other beverages to help ensure kids get optimal nutrition from their drinks.

Traditional milk is best

Despite the growing popularity of plant-based milks, like almond and coconut milk, nothing beats plain ol’ cow’s milk for kids. That’s because cow’s milk has a good balance of naturally occurring calories from fat, protein and essential vitamins. Kids need these nutrients for growth and development — and plant-based milks don’t provide it.

“Milk alternatives might be lower in calories, but it’s not as well-balanced in vitamins and minerals,” says pediatric dietitian Diana Schnee, MS, RD, CSP, LD.

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Traditional milk has natural nutrition that children need for growth and development, while milk alternatives tend to have nutritional benefits added in later through a process called fortification. It’s not clear how well our bodies actually absorb vitamins and minerals through fortified milks.

Your kid’s best bet is traditional milk.

Kids should avoid fruit juice too

Fruit juice is another item recommended that kids should avoid.

Schnee says that fruit juice is just the sugar left behind from the fruit. All of the beneficial fiber is lost in the process. Research suggest that drinking juice leads kids to develop a taste for sweet things — paving the way for a long road of battles between kids and parents when it comes to food.

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And just because a drink claims to be 100% fruit juice doesn’t mean it’s a healthy option for children.

“Even 100% fruit juice is all just sugar from the whole fruit,” explains Schnee. “There’s not necessarily any added sugar, or fake sugar, but due to the absence of fiber, kids are more likely to consume too much of the natural sugar from the fruit.”

Schnee also advises parents to skip flavored milks, sodas and caffeinated beverages — as added sugars and stimulants can negatively impact growth and development (and cause blood sugar swings).

If your child has a milk allergy or other issues with cow’s milk, a registered dietitian can help make sure your kid is getting the nutrition they need.  

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