January 28, 2023

Nutra Health

The Ideal Health

3 Best Plant-Based Milk Alternatives For Toddlers

Need help sourcing the best milk alternatives for toddlers?

As a family, you might be thinking about eating less meat and more plant-based foods this year.

You hit the supermarket and you decide to pick a plant-based milk alternative for you and your children.

Any will do for your baby or toddler, right?  Wrong!

Need help sourcing the best milk alternatives for toddlers?

As a family, you might be thinking about eating less meat and more plant-based foods this year.

You hit the supermarket and you decide to pick a plant-based milk alternative for you and your children.

Any will do for your baby or toddler, right?  Wrong!

Learn how to choose the best plant-based milk alternative for your toddler as what’s right for you, won’t be the best choice for your infant or toddler.  Confused?

Keep reading to find out which milk alternatives for toddlers I recommend.

 

How to spot the best plant-based milk for babies and toddlers

I recommend using a checklist and if you are working with me, I will provide you with one.

As a general rule of thumb, there are a few crucial macro and micronutrients that you should look out for when selecting a plant-based milk alternative for your toddler.

If it’s just for cooking, the best plant-based milk for babies and toddlers should be fortified with the correct nutrients.

Look for the below key nutrients when screening for any type of plant drink:

  • protein
  • calories
  • calcium
  • vitamin B12
  • other B vitamins
  • vitamin D
  • iodine

Choosing milk alternatives for 1-year-old

If your toddler is healthy and over the age of 12 months, you probably can switch from cow’s milk to a plant-based milk drink safely.

If you have any questions on whether a vegan lifestyle is right for your family and whether vegan diets are safe for children, do read:

The problem lies in picking the brand and best plant-based milk for toddlers that offer the correct nutrients to help replace the key nutrients that cow’s milk provided.

The good news is that with the popularity of plant-based diets, there are now at least three different fortified plant milk for you to choose from.

Cow’s milk is also a source of calories, B vitamins, calcium and iodine so the best milk alternatives for 1-year-olds and older should provide all of these nutrients.

 

Soy milk

alpro soya growing up drink 1-3+

Alpro Soya Growing Up Drink 1-3+

Soy is one of the best dairy-free plant-based milk alternative drinks for toddlers.

Soy protein is a great dairy alternative as it contains all 9 essential proteins making it a great choice for growth.

The amount of protein is lower than the amount present in cow’s milk itself, but it does still contain the highest amount of protein compared to the other plant-based milk alternative drinks for toddlers.

I recommend choosing Alpro Soya Growing Up Drink if you need a well-rounded plant-based milk alternative for toddlers that has decent calories, protein, added B vitamins, vitamin D and iodine.

The calcium content is also comparable to cow’s milk.

Do remember to shake the carton well before serving as the calcium tends to settle at the bottom.

The added bonus is that this soya drink is also fortified with iron.

Although it’s questionable how well iron will be absorbed in the presence of calcium.

Calcium could prevent iron from being absorbed well in the gut regardless of whether the calcium is from dairy or from a fortified source.  Work with a paediatric dietitian if your child following a plant-based diet also suffers from iron deficiency anaemia.

Apart from the above points, soy milk is one of the best milk alternatives for toddlers based on its nutrition profile.

Soy for under 6 months old

We don’t recommend using plant-based alternatives as the main source of drink for babies under 12 months of age.

This includes soy drinks for babies under 6 months or even 1 year of age.

You can use soy drinks to make porridge or to prepare a sauce, but never as the main source of drink for babies under 6 months of age.

What about soy-based infant formula?

Infants under 6 months of age should generally avoid soy-based formulas.

This is due to concerns about the impact of isoflavones on the reproductive organs in infants.

For infants under 6 months of age, the dose of isoflavones per kg of body weight would be higher in small children.

Only children with certain medical conditions like galactosaemia might be recommended to use soy-based infant formula.

Children following a plant-based diet will be able to drink soy infant formula after discussing it with a paediatric dietitian.

Do speak to a paediatric dietitian like myself or your family doctor for individualised advice.

More on soy food can be found here.

Best for: children following vegan diets, source of protein and iodine, best non-dairy milk for toddlers

Oat milk for toddlers

Oatly-oat-milk-alternatives-toddler

Oat milk for babies

You can use oat milk for babies in cooking when you start weaning them onto solids.

Use oat milk for your baby when preparing porridge or making a white sauce.  

Due to its nutrient profile, it can easily become the best plant alternative to milk for babies for cooking.

For babies under 12 months of age, oat milk should never be used as a replacement for breast milk or your baby’s specialist infant formula. 

If your baby has been diagnosed with cow milk protein allergy, then choose plant milk that is also fortified with both calcium and iodine.

Please speak to your paediatric dietitian for specialist advice.

Oatly Oat Drink

Oatly oat drink has ‘semi-skimmed’ and ‘Barista Edition’ varieties so the calories do vary.

Pick the Barrista oat milk as the preferred plant milk alternative for toddlers with allergies.

If your toddler needs plant-based milk alternatives with good amounts of calories without soy as a base, then oat milk is a good option.

This is a great option if your child is unable to have soy milk due to a milk allergy.

This makes fortified oat milk a good plant-based milk substitute for babies and toddlers with allergies.

Just note that this wouldn’t be suitable for children with coeliac disease.

Often parents often ask which plant-based milk is best for 1-year-old if they are unable to have soy.

Oat-based drinks can be a suitable alternative to cow’s milk, however, your toddler’s overall nutritional intake of protein and vitamins will need close monitoring.

 

M&S Oat milk

I found the M&S Oat drinks handy too.

You’ll find it in the chilled section of the store and it is also iodine fortified.

However, availability can be an issue as it sells out quickly in some of the smaller boutique stores.

Although I’ve listed it as the second choice, if your child is avoiding all animal foods then the KoKo Super could also be an excellent choice.

Best for: milk allergy in babies, milk allergy in toddlers, children with soy allergies, no added sugar, milk substitute for toddlers with eczema

 

Alpro Oat Growing Up Milk

This is an exciting new kid on the block!

Similar to its soy version, this oat milk is aimed at toddlers following a plant-based diet or children living with a dairy allergy.

The good news is that it is higher in protein compared to the Oatly range making it one of the best milk alternatives for toddlers.

This oat milk is also fortified with the following nutrients:

  • calcium 120mg per 100ml
  • zinc 0.9mg per 100ml
  • iron 1.4 mg per 100ml
  • iodine 11.3 ug per 100ml
  • vitamin B12 0.38 ug per 100 ml
  • vitamin D 1.5 ug per 100ml

Although this plant-based milk alternative for toddlers is fortified with iodine, the levels per 100ml are low.

Children following a plant-based diet will need to monitor their overall iodine intake carefully.

Note that the Alpro Oat Growing Up Milk contains maltodextrin.

Maltodextrin isn’t classified as sugar, but like sugar, it is digested quickly in the body.

Best for: milk allergy in babies, milk allergy in toddlers, children with soy allergies, non-dairy milk for toddlers with dairy and soy allergies

bahee-vandebor-poop-mistakes-guide

Milk substitute for kids – Coconut milk

koko-super-coconut-drink-milk-alternatives-toddlers

Koko Super Dairy Free Drink

If you are looking for a coconut-based drink this one is perfect in breakfast cereals and as a drink on its own.

Unlike most other coconut drinks, there’s no added rice milk which should be avoided in children under the age of five years.  This is due to the presence of organic arsenic that is naturally present in rice and rice-based products.

Read more about the other plant drinks here:

What I love about this drink is that there are some additional vitamins and minerals which can be useful for picky eaters.

There’s nothing remarkable about the amount of added iron and zinc though.

A 200ml serving may help meet around 15-20% of daily requirements depending on your child’s age.

There are very good amounts of vitamin A and calcium, nutrients that are both essential for growing toddlers.

If your child is not a fan of any of the plant drinks and you are worried about their calcium intake then you are in luck.  Koko Super is fortified with 170mg per 100ml which makes meeting daily targets a lot easier.

Once again remember that calcium is best absorbed when given in doses throughout the day.

For other calcium-rich foods, do read:

Best for: calcium, milk allergy in babies (for cooking), milk allergy alternatives for toddlers, vegan diet

Pea milk

Pea milk

Mighty Pea Milk

I originally spotted this pea milk drink when surfing the internet.

I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t used pea drinks in a very long time.

But I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted it!

I first remember recommending pea drinks around fifteen years ago when I was working with children with multiple food allergies.

The previous brand disappeared from the market and I had genuinely forgotten about it until I spotted this.

I haven’t discussed pea milk in the corresponding podcast episode for this blog article.

I have now tasted it and I’m happy to recommend it.

Please note it does contain oats and coconut.

Do read the nutrition facts table carefully when searching for dairy alternatives to cow’s milk for 1-year-old.

It’s also a little too low in calories for children in my opinion.

The levels of iodine are very good but the calcium is variable and isn’t always comparable to cow’s milk.

So, unless your toddler couldn’t have the top three plant-based milk alternatives in the list of recommendations above, I wouldn’t be rushing to recommend it for children.

The calcium content can be as little as 60mg per 100 ml.

Choose the variety that provides 186mg of calcium per 100 ml.

Nevertheless, it may be handy in cooking or baking.

Drop me a line if you have used it and are enjoying it or DM me over at Instagram @ukkidsnutrition.

best-milk-alternatives-for-toddlers

What are some of the other best non-dairy milk alternatives for toddlers?

Nut milk

I’ve covered the various other types of plant milk like nut milk, seed milk, hemp milk and rice milk in this article:

In summary, when choosing a milk alternative for toddlers, it’s just too low in protein for young children.

Some brands are also not fortified with calcium so just be careful about checking the back of the carton to check what’s actually been added.

Some brands like the Alpro range do have calcium added as well as B vitamins and vitamin D.

The protein is still problematic as are the calories.

The calories per 100ml are too low for young toddlers (particularly if your child has a tendency towards fussy eating).

Toddlers can be unreliable eaters.

They can eat quite a bit at one meal with a lovely range of foods, but then over the next few days may not be very interested in protein or calcium-rich foods.

For peace of mind, pick a non-dairy alternative that’s a suitable substitute for breast milk or cows’ milk from the age of 12 months with a decent profile for protein and calories.

I’d recommend picking brands that offer at least 1g of protein per 100 ml.

Do watch out for organic varieties.

Organic brands that are milk alternatives for toddlers are rarely fortified with calcium and other nutrients.

If your preference is a nut-based plant drink then your toddler will need an alternative calcium and iodine supplement.

Equally, some brands don’t include any B vitamins or vitamin D either.

Other useful reading

The bottom line

If you are planning to switch from cow’s milk to one of the plant-based milk alternatives for your toddler, then do pick wisely.  Consider whether your toddler is a picky eater, has other food allergies or has high energy requirements.

Work with a paediatric dietitian to help you decide which milk alternatives are best.  Always liaise with your paediatric dietitian for individualised and bespoke advice.

The information in this blog post is for your information only and should never be used to replace the advice given to you by your medical doctor or specialist paediatric dietitian.

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