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Breast milk is the first food your baby is going to consume. It contains nutrients, antibodies and various other factors that help in their mental and physical development. However, they will be weaned off sooner or later, and begin eating solid foods. Is it important for children to drink milk? Do they still need milk at this point? Read on to find out the benefits of milk and why it is important that your growing child has it in his diet.
Why Should Children Drink Milk?
Do kids need to drink milk? For the first twelve months of their lives, it is imperative your child only be nursed, so he gains the most from breastmilk. Also, there is no need to stop giving other forms of milk when your child can eat solid foods. Children who drink milk avail of a whole range of health benefits, for example, fats and carbohydrates in the milk provide energy, protein is critical for growth, calcium and phosphorus support bone and teeth development, vitamins help fight infections, etc.
However, it pays to be cautious due to the abundance of lactose, a milk sugar, which causes diarrhoea and bloating as most babies are unable to digest large quantities of it. Also, although some studies have confirmed that milk is a good source of the nutrients (as mentioned above), it is not entirely proven that kids who drink milk are healthier than those who don’t drink milk while growing up.
How Much Milk Should Kids Drink?
Babies younger than twelve months should avoid animal milk at all costs, but after this milestone, they can be introduced to whole-fat cow’s milk as the fat is essential in neural development. Once your baby is two years of age, the real question arises – How much milk should you give your child?
2 to 3 Years
Toddlers at this age should not be given more than two cups of milk per day. This is because excessive milk could fill your child up, making him reject other essential food groups.
4 to 8 Years
Four to eight-year-olds are restricted to a maximum of four cups per day, as too much might make them gassy and kill hunger. Another problem to consider is diarrhoea from excessive milk consumption, as most babies tend to be mildly lactose intolerant.
Type of Milk You Should Give Your Kids
There are multiple varieties of milk available for you to choose from. Some of them are:
1. Ultra-High Temperature Pasteurized Milk
Also known as extended shelf life or long-lasting milk, it is quite safe for your child. The fancy name just implies that the milk has been sterilised in such a way that it takes longer to expire. But be aware that once you open the milk packet or carton, it can spoil as fast as regular milk.
2. Rice Milk
This milk is extracted from rice grains and can be fed to your child occasionally. However, don’t make a habit of feeding rice milk regularly as it does not have enough fats or protein to sustain your child.
3. Soy Milk
Soy milk is extracted from soybeans and is a great vegan alternative to cow’s milk. Make sure to give only full-fat milk that has been supplemented with calcium.
4. Goat Milk or Sheep Milk
Consisting of a profile similar to that of a cow, goat or sheep milk is quite suitable for children over a year old. However, you might want to consider supplementing your child with foods fortified with Vitamin B9, which is lacking in goat and sheep milk.
5. Almond or Cashew Milk
Almond or cashew milk can also be given as an alternative for vegans.
Nutritional Information on Milk
Animal milk (cows milk) is considered as whole food as it is full of nutrients necessary for your growing child, such as:
- Phosphorus – It is essential in maintaining bone strength, aids brain functions, and provides energy for metabolic reactions. It also plays a role in digestion and excretion.
- Vitamin D – Also called the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D improves bone density. It is also important for efficient blood circulation.
- Vitamin A – It helps in vision development, maintains good skin as well as strengthens the body against infections.
- Vitamin B2 – It helps convert complex foods into glucose, which can be easily broken down to provide energy.
- Cyanocobalamin – It is used in the production of the myelin sheath, which is important in neuronal development. It is also essential in the production of red blood cells.
- Niacin – It helps lower cholesterol levels and also prevents conditions like arthritis by improving joint mobility.
- Calcium – It is an essential mineral used to build teeth and bones. It is required for the proper functioning of the circulatory system and the nervous system. It is also required in the brain, muscle and cardiovascular functioning.
Amazing Benefits of Milk
There are several benefits of milk for kids. A few of them are:
1. Complete Nutritional Profile
Milk consists of carbohydrates and fats for energy, proteins for development and repair, as well as several vitamins and minerals that are essential in your child’s diet.
2. Bone and Teeth Development
The presence of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D in milk supports the healthy development of bones and teeth in children. Calcium and phosphorus are crucial in forming enamel, the coating on the teeth that protect them from wear as well as acids present in food. Also, a milk protein known as casein can coat the enamel, preventing loss of the deposited calcium and phosphorus. All three nutrients are helpful in preventing diseases such as rickets, osteoporosis and osteomalacia, which occur due to brittle or weak bones.
3. Maintaining Blood Pressure
Potassium, magnesium and calcium are the minerals in milk that are known to reduce blood pressure levels. Milk also contains special proteins known as bioactive peptides that reduce hypertension. Ensure your child’s diet too has low salt levels to avoid high blood pressure.
Milk is 87% water, and a smart method of ensuring your child stays hydrated for the entire day, especially after physical activities or exercise.
5. Improves Cardiovascular Health
Minerals like magnesium and potassium behave as vasodilators which enhance the flow of blood towards the organs. It also reduces the chances of diseases like atherosclerosis and other heart conditions. The calcium in milk also improves blood clotting as well as the functioning of blood cells.
6. Helps Prevent Diabetes and Obesity
Vitamins and minerals in milk keep your child’s metabolism running efficiently, thereby allowing their bodies to control the breakdown of sugars. This reduces the likelihood of diabetes as well as obesity.
Research has shown that regular consumption of milk reduces the risks of developing colon cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants like selenium, zinc and Vitamin E promote your child’s immunity, allowing them to ward off infections. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids can control inflammation.
The Best Type of Milk for Kids
The type of milk you drink depends on your age. Babies younger than a year should be fed breastmilk, although dairy products like cheese (avoid processed cheese) and yoghurt can be introduced after six months. Post 1 year of age, whole milk should be good for a growing baby. Consult your family doctor if you have any hereditary heart problems. Once your baby turns 2 years old, whole milk or non-fatty milk can be considered as both have similar amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Ways to Have Milk in Your Child’s Diet
Children and milk don’t usually get along because of its bland flavour. Here are some specific ways to introduce dairy into their diet:
1. Breakfast Cereal
Milk can be mixed with fortified cereals or oatmeal, which are usually flavoured. It can be hot or cold, depending on your child’s preference, but ensure its intake before the cereal turns soggy. You can add a bunch of nuts and raisins for that extra nutritional punch and make it taste better.
2. Add Milk to Dishes
You can replace the cheese or cream used to make a pasta sauce with milk for a unique but delicious flavour. Milk can also be added to dishes like scrambled eggs. Add some extra dairy like butter if you feel it’s necessary. Don’t forget to include a variety of vegetables in your pasta.
3. Iced Milk
You can also make iced milk for your child. Combine milk with fruits, sugar, flavouring agents like vanilla, beat them together till they are frothy and leave the concoction to chill in the refrigerator.
4. Flavoured Milk
You can mix in a variety of flavours to improve the taste of milk. Most kids prefer chocolate, but you can try out cinnamon, strawberry, ginger, pistachio, banana, vanilla, cardamom, turmeric, honey, etc. to add variety.
5. Delicious Smoothies
Milk can be made into smoothies by adding fruits, nuts, ice cream, yoghurt, cream or anything tasty you can think of.
Instead of forcing your child to drink, give him snacks, such as cookies or biscuits, to dunk into the milk and enjoy.
It is difficult for most parents to convince their children to drink milk. These tips should be able to help you out. Milk is a very healthy food, but it is only a supplement to solid foods, not a replacement. Make sure your child gets a variety of foods in their diet, such as whole grains, cereals, fish, lean meats, leafy greens, vegetables, and fresh fruit. Also, if you want non-dairy milk for your child, almond milk and rice milk are good alternatives.
Also Read: Calcium-Rich Foods for Kids