One question that comes back time and time again in my practice and in my DMs is: Which plant milk is best for children? Can children have only vegan milks?
Either your little one has a dairy allergy, intolerance or you are raising your children on a vegan diet, it is a common question amongst parents to know which plant milk is best to give to children and whether is it safe to do so.
Choosing the right alternative to dairy means choosing the milk which not only your children will drink but one that is also nutritious and contains important nutrients for their development and growth.
First of all swapping from cow’s milk to plant milk can take a little bit of getting used to. Plant milks taste different to cow’s milk and it might take 1-2 weeks for your children to find the one they like. I recommend trying a few different ones while transitioning to find the brand and type your children love the most. Also don’t give them straight glasses of plant milk while they are still getting used to the taste but rather serve it in smoothies, porridge, baking and cereals to let them get used to the taste.
(quick personal tip: the soy milk called MILKY is the best for a creamy taste to please children in drinking straight glasses of plant milk – mine love it!)
Best plant milk:
The winner is SOY MILK! As a mum and nutritionist, I prefer using soy milk for my children (and for myself). It is packed with protein, calcium and the one we buy is fortified vit B12, A, D and vit Bs. It also tastes great and milky and is loved by all my 3 children.
Now for nutrition all the fortified plant milks are also good. Almond, rice, oat milk and coconut milks are pretty much equal although coconut milk contains more fats which is good for very young children. I also like hemp milk but being homemade it does not contain enough calcium for young children.
But it is very important that children drink a fortified plant milk with calcium as one glass of almond milk fortified with calcium contains between 300and 400mg of calcium which is the equivalent of the amount of calcium found in a glass of dairy. You can easily achieve your child’s daily calcium requirements by serving fortified plant milk at breakfast, as a drink post nap/school and before bed (around 700mg per day of calcium is required for a child).
Organic plant milks are never fortified with calcium and as such I do not recommend them for children of all ages or for women.
What about sugar? I get this question often too and there are a few brands that do plant milk fortified with calcium with no sugar (Califia for example) but the sugar added is really minimal and it helps children drink the plant milk and get the calcium.
The amount of sugar found in a glass of plant milk is 5gr which is less than the amount of sugar found in the dairy glass of milk 11.5 from the galactose (for a glass of 250ml comparing soy milk and full cream dairy milk).
What age can you give plant milk?
You can introduce plant milks as young as 6 months old served in food BUT not as a drink. Breastfeeding or formula is best until 12-24 months. After 12 months you can give glasses of plant milk but limit them to 2-3 per day to avoid reducing their appetite for other healthy foods.
If you would like some more help with plant based nutrition, I offer consultation worldwide to help families thrive on a plant-based diet.