Young toddlers between 12 -23 months of age need a good high calorie nutritional beverage to help in their growth and development, especially if they stop breastfeeding at 12 months of age. Since breast milk is about 20 calories per ounce (equivalent to approximately 160 calories in 8 ounces), it makes sense that a good beverage should be close to providing that caloric intake, especially as these little ones are still learning to eat and growing in their ability to get most of their nutrition needs met through solid food. I remember my younger daughter only got her first tooth at about 13 months of age! So that is usually why whole cow’s milk is recommended as a good substitute for breast milk in this age group, as it provides a good amount of calories, protein and calcium in a one cup serving. However, it is also high is saturated fat, contains trans fat and is a poor iron and fiber source.
Is there a good plant-based milk alternative? Yes! It is recommended that toddlers between 12 – 23 months of age on a full plant-based diet drink fortified full-fat soy milk as the main beverage instead of other plant-based milks. One cup (8 ounces) of a fortified full-fat soy milk beverage provides a good amount of calories and protein, and is comparable to cow’s milk in terms of its calcium, as well as vitamins A and D content. In contrast, though, a fortified full-fat soy milk comes with a higher iron, fiber and zinc content, with minimal saturated fat, no cholesterol and no trans fat.
What about other plant-based milks? As can be seen in the simple table below (which uses fortified almond milk as an example), other plant-based milks, even if fortified with vitamins and minerals, tend to be much lower in calories and protein. Hence these plant-based milks will not support the protein and calorie needs of young toddlers in this age group, especially given their small appetites and daily intakes.
Comparison of Typical Nutrient Profile Of Selected Milks Per 1 Cup (250 mL or 8 ounces)
|Cow’s Milk||Fortified Soy Milk*||Fortified Almond Milk*|
|Iron (% DV)||0%||8%||4%|
|Zinc (% DV)||6%||10%||10%|
|Saturated Fat (grams, % DV)||6 grams (31%)||0.5 grams (3%)||0.2 grams|
|Trans Fat (grams)||0.2||0||0|
*Used Silk brand Original Fortified Soy Milk and Original Fortified Almond Milks for comparison from www.drinksilk.ca.
In its Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics clearly supports the use of fortified soy milk as a main beverage for toddlers over 1 year of age that are growing normally and eating a variety of foods. Choosing a fortified full-fat version of soy milk and aiming for 2 cups a day will ensure children between 1 – 3 years of age are meeting their daily protein needs (this amount can be adjusted if there is good daily intake of other protein-rich plant-based foods). Choose an unsweetened or original fortified soy milk version. To make up for the caloric difference, for each 8 ounce cup of fortified soy milk that you give your young toddler, you can give a teaspoon of canola oil mixed into his or her food, as one teaspoon provides about 45 calories. Don’t worry, your young ‘un won’t notice the difference in the food!
Having said all this, if you can continue to breastfeed past your child’s one year mark, please do continue alongside using fortified soy milk! Fortified toddler soy formulas is also an alternative for parents wanting to continue their child on soy formulas past one year of age. As with any child, it is important to monitor a child’s growth parameters such as weight, length and head circumference measurements periodically to ensure the child is following his or her own growth trajectory well.
(Want more information on this topic? Check out this pertinent article from theveganRD.com.)
Melina, V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116:1970-1980. Link to article. Accessed March 1, 2018.
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. Accessed March 1, 2018.)