How much milk do kids need

Ask Amanda: How Much Milk Do Children Need? Your Questions Answered By Expert RD

Hi Amanda, my 3.5 year-old-son will drink milk, but it’s not his favorite. He drinks about 6-8 oz. per day, if I encourage him. He never asks for milk, and he would rather drink water. Is this enough calcium for him?

Great question. Calcium is very important for developing bones and teeth. It is one of the many nutrients that kids really need to grow. Milk and other dairy foods are a great way to get kids enough calcium. Sometimes a parent will ask me, if my child eats broccoli and other green vegetables, does that have as much calcium?

Broccoli and other green leafy vegetables do have calcium, but a child would need to eat more than 2 cups of cooked broccoli to equal one cup of milk, so it’s not quite equivalent!

A 3-year-old needs about 700 mg of calcium per day. This is 2-2.5 cups of milk per day (16-20 ounces). If your son isn’t drinking this much milk, but can/will eat other dairy foods, 1 cup of milk (skim, low fat or nonfat milk) is equivalent to 1 cup of yogurt, 1.5-2 oz of cheese or 1/3 cup of shredded cheese. In addition to milk and dairy, you can also try to offer foods that have moderate amounts of calcium including oranges, spinach, almonds, beans, tofu (made with calcium sulfate), and calcium-fortified breakfast cereals and oatmeal.

In my house, my son is far from a milk-enthusiast. I have had luck with fresh mozzarella cheese (the “ciliegine style” which are small balls that come in a container and are perfect for snacking). I have also started making breakfast smoothies with Kefir, a drink made from fermented cow’s milk. It has as much calcium as a glass of milk and also loads of probiotics. It can be a bit sour-tasting, but works well in smoothies. I combine 1-1.5 cups of low-fat, plain Kefir with frozen fruit and one tablespoon of honey in a blender for an easy breakfast drink. And, I don’t have to nag my son to drink it like I do a glass of milk!