Does My Toddler Need Milk? | The Milk Series | Part II

Does My Toddler Need Milk? | The Milk Series | Part II

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You grew a human on the inside. PreggoLife. Likely with the irreplaceable supplementation of every condiment with a side of southern fried pickles. Straight vinegar to the mouth. The dankiest sauerkraut. The ideal elevator snack – canned sardines (saywhat). Fatty / butter-soaked / melty cheese smothered fast food burgers from Guilty’s. All the reachable conduits for granulated white sugar. Fruit flavors primally wiped on (unpairable) food items with zero marketability to all within eyeshot.

Or you chose a human and sufficiently ate your feelings the months before your stress-peaking home study. Then you grew a human on the outside via rivers of white gold (my wife loves it when I refer to breast milk that way) or powdered, food grade Miracle-Gro-a-Bro.

But what the heck comes next?? Crunchy air (rice cereal) at 4 months? Purees or baby-led-weaning at 6 months? What about 12 months? Is whole-fat cow’s milk the necessary next step or just an industry-driven recommendation?

milk part I recap

Recap on part I.

Here’s what we discovered in Part I: full-fat goat’s milk has the closest nutrient profile to human milk. Second place went to cow’s milk, and then the slurry of vegan alternatives fell far behind. We’re definitely not biased–we regularly drink and enjoy nut and coconut milk in our household.

However, the data only related to macronutrients and micronutrients.

You mean there’s more to nutrition than nutrients? Lamb right there is. Should these other food components factor into your delectable decision? Perhaps. It’s always best to make an informed selection based on data, not based on hype or unsolicited opinions. The standard approach has worked for many, but not all. Have you ever asked for the “why” behind whole-fat udder juice at 1 year of age? Let’s take a look.

Is non-human milk actually necessary at 12 months?

“Cow’s milk is not recommended during the first 12 months of life. However, fortified cow’s milk is an important dietary component of a toddler’s diet because of its high-quality protein, calcium, and vitamins A and D.” – American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)

One American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement said that 2 cups of cow’s milk per day paired with outside time can yield a healthy vitamin D level, but with an inverse relationship to iron. Drink more than 2 cups and iron levels may become deficient.

It’s all about the protein, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein for a 1-3 year old is 13 g. The NIH’s RDA for calcium for a 1-3 year old is 700 mg. The NIH’s respective RDA for vitamin A is 300 mcg retinol activity equivalents (RAE). The RDA for vitamin D for 1-13 year olds is 600 IU. What in the world does that all mean?? Can my nugget consume sufficient nutrients without the need for cow’s milk?

3 eggs, top view, protein


Healthline offers some protein amounts per food. Compare to 13 g per day.

  • 1 egg is 6 g
  • ¼ chicken breast is ~13 g
  • ½ cup cooked oatmeal is 3 g
  • ¼ cup cottage cheese is 6 g
  • 2 oz greek yogurt is ~5 g
  • 1 oz of lean beef is ~7 g
  • 1 oz tuna is 8 g
  • ¼ cup of quinoa is 2 g
  • 2 tbsp of lentils is 2 g
  • 1 tsp peanut butter is ~1 g
  • 1 medium banana is ~1 g
  • 8 oz whole cow’s milk has exactly 7.9 g – Self NutritionData


High calcium foods (NIH). Compare to 700 mg per day.

  • 2 oz greek yogurt has ~100 mg
  • ½ oz mozzarella cheese has 111 mg
  • 1 oz sardines has 108 mg
  • 1 oz canned salmon has 60 mg
  • ¼ cup cottage cheese has ~34 mg
  • ¼ cup boiled turnip greens has ~49 mg
  • ¼ cup cooked kale has ~23 mg
  • 8 oz whole cow’s milk has 276 mg – Self NutritionData

Vitamin A.

High vitamin A foods (NIH). Compare to 300 mcg per day.

  • ¼ sweet potato has ~350 mcg RAE
  • ¼ spinach, boiled from frozen has ~286 mcg
  • ¼ mango has 28 mcg
  • ¼ cup black-eyed peas have ~16 mcg
  • ¼ cup boiled broccoli has 30 mcg
  • 1 oz pickled herring has 73 mcg (if your kid eats this, I’m impressed)
  • 8 oz whole cow’s milk has 68.3 mcg – Self NutritionData

Vitamin D.

High vitamin D foods (NIH) & sun exposure. Compare to 600 IU per day.

  • 1 oz swordfish has ~188 IU
  • 1 oz sockeye salmon has ~159 IU
  • 1 oz canned tuna ~51 IU
  • 2 sardines has 46 IU
  • 1 large egg has 41 IU
  • 8 oz whole cow’s milk is fortified with 97.6 IU – Self NutritionData
  • The Vitamin D Council says “…your body can produce 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D in just a little under the time it takes for your skin to begin to burn.” Wow! This required large amounts of skin to be exposed. Keep in mind that sunscreen and sunblock will inhibit you and your kiddo’s absorption of vitamin D from the sun.


Heard of it? No, not promiscuous intimacy. No, not a new Red Hot Chili Peppers song. In the context of our chat, it’s the addition of micronutrients to a food. Usually to solve a national health crisis, prevent widespread malnutrition, or to make up for what’s lost in processing. For example, brown rice is not fortified because it naturally contains B vitamins. You process brown rice into white rice, and now you have a nutritionally worth-less food without sufficient B vitamins. Pick up a bag of white rice, eye the ingredient list and notice the added B vitamins aka fortification.

Cow-a-fortification, for my Red Hotties.

Cow’s & goat’s milk are fortified with vitamin D. It naturally occurs in cow’s only, but in very small amounts (USDA Nutrient Database). Cow’s = 5 IU per 8 oz. Goat’s = 0 IU per 8 oz. There is no difference between the vitamin D added to your milk, and the vitamin D supplement you can purchase on Amazon. Milk protein, calcium and vitamin A are naturally in there. Perhaps vitamin D alone is NOT an adequate reason to drink animalian milk.

My favorite $8.09 bottle of liquid vitamin D I just linked has 1,000 IU per serving and 107 servings per bottle. That’s a grand total of 107,000 IU per bottle. Your cheap-o gallon of whole milk is around $2, with 97.6 IU per an 8 oz serving, totaling 1,562 IU per gallon. Milk solely for the purpose of vitamin D is a huge waste of money.

You may have noticed that I did not include any fortified foods in the above lists, besides milk. Soymilk / OJ / tofu / cereal with added calcium. Cereal with added vitamin A. OJ / yogurt / cereal with added vitamin D.

Ask yourself: why are these foods fortified? Are we eating & drinking any foods exclusively for a fortified vitamin or two? Is there a better natural source?  

We’ll iron things out.

*Bonus: high iron foods (NIH). In case you’re concerned, cow’s milk consumption increases risk for iron deficiency in mini dudes. RDA is 7 mg for 1-3 year olds.

  • ¼ cup white beans has 2 mg
  • ¼ cup boiled lentils has 1 ½ mg
  • ¼ cup boiled spinach has 1 ½ mg
  • ¼ cup firm tofu has 1 ½ mg
  • 1 oz sardines has close to 1 mg
  • 1 oz hummus has ~¾ mg
  • ¼ large potato has ~¾ mg

Based on the data above, here’s my question for you. Can your toddler get enough protein, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D per day without drinking cow’s milk? Protein seems like a piece of cake (not literally). Our little Bonk gets an entire day’s worth of protein just in his paleo pancake breakfast – 1 banana and 2 eggs, pan-fried to perfection (the hardest pancake you’ll ever flip). Vitamin D is in the (diaper) bag if you allot a short amount of sun exposure every day, depending on skin color. Albino child may only need 15 minutes per day, whereas her beautifully dark skinned pal may need 2 hours per day to create the same amount of vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin A might be a bit more challenging.

Brain development – fats.

NIH’s MedlinePlus states,”A child who is 1 or 2 years old should only drink whole milk. This is because the fat in whole milk is needed for your child’s developing brain.”

But how much fat does Squish actually need? offers a recommended range of 30-40 grams of fat per day for a 1-3 year old. Scope these higher fat foods taken from the USDA food composition database:

  • ¼ avocado has ~7 g total fat
  • 1 large egg has 5 g (mostly from the yolk)
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter (or) cashew butter has 8 g
  • 1 tbsp almond butter has 9 g
  • 1 ½ oz salmon has ~5 g
  • 1 tsp olive oil has 4.5 g
  • 1 tsp coconut oil has 4.5 g
  • 1 tbsp full-fat coconut milk, canned has 3.6 g
  • 1 oz grass fed ground beef has ~4 g
  • 2 oz whole milk greek yogurt has 2 ¼ g
  • 1 oz slice of mozzarella cheese has ~5 g
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds has over 4 g
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxssed has 4 ¼ g

Will your lovely little one get enough fat without cow’s milk? Let’s put it in perspective. An 8 oz (1 cup) sippy cup of bottle of whole-fat cow’s milk has 2.4 grams of fat, total. If you’re supposed to cap milk intake to 16 oz (2 cups) per day, we’re talking a grand total of ~5 grams of fat. 5 out of 30 is about 17%. Can you replace that 17% or 5 grams with one of these non-milk sources or no?

Essential fatty acids.

Do all fats help your kid’s brain develop? Maybe. But a few are termed “essential fatty acids (EFA)” because your body cannot produce them. Here are the EFAs: linoleic acid (omega 6, abbreviated LA) and alpha linolenic acid (omega 3, abbreviated ALA). For 1-3 year olds, the says an adequate intake of LA per day is 7 g, and ALA per day is 0.7 g. Oxford Academic’s The Journal of Nutrition explains that arachidonic acid (AA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are made from LA & ALA fats, and are quite possibly THE most essential to baby’s brain development.


Here lies the crux: does your nug’s diet include sufficient amounts of LA & ALA? In other words, is you child’s neurodevelopment positioned to thrive or fall behind? Delve into these charts that reveal high LA, ALA, DHA & AA foods. Dig through this list and cross-reference what Pebbles is nomming on the regular. Data is from Oregon State University’s Linus Paul Institute >> Micronutrient Information Center.

Human vs. cow vs. goat.

A 2007 breast milk meta-analysis study shows that DHA & AA are present in breast milk and supply sufficient amounts for neural development. No need for their precursors ALA & LA. Remember from Breast Milk Part I that human milk is the perfect food for babies with regard to macronutrients, micronutrients, etc. Whole cow’s milk & goat’s milk have ALA & LA as well! Let’s compare:

Fairly comparable, right?? Minus the tripled / quadrupled linoleic acid (LA) in breast milk. If you stop breastfeeding or formula feeding at 1 year, can you help kiddo make up for the loss of LA? If you opt out of cow’s AND goat’s milk, what foods will you supplement to span the gap?

So, answer my dang question… does my toddler need milk?

If the current, national recommendation to include whole cow’s milk in your 1 year old’s daily diet is ONLY based on a need for quality protein, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, overall fat content and essential fatty acids… then the answer is “no”. Based on the ability to consume and absorb these macro’s and micro’s elsewhere, cow’s milk is not essential.

Disclaimer: do NOT make any major nutritional changes in your child’s life without your clinician’s consent. They know your kid’s entire health story, and I do not. Personal & family medical history, demographics, lifestyle, diet plan, biometrics, readiness to make changes and the ability to sustain those changes over time.   

Mom-mandate & dad-decree.

However, it’s our responsibility as mommies and daddies to offer our little bundles optimal nutrition on a daily basis, wherever affordable, whenever possible. If you look through the lists and charts above and determine, “Wow, I’ll never be able to give my coddlemonkey those amounts of nutrients on the regs,” then stick to organic, pastured / grass-fed cow’s milk or goat’s milk. At least until the tot can palate a more diversified meal plan. Just be SURE that there aren’t any signs of a casein allergy, whey allergy or lactose intolerance. And keep an eye on iron intake.

A friendly note on food trendiness.

Food trendiness is stupid. It puts pressure on you as a parent to conform to the new fad, regardless of nutritional value-add or practicality or cost or your sanity. When you obsess over the type of food ABOVE the nutrients in the food, then you’re a victim of a fad. Real talk – eating dairy-free is a fad. If you don’t get the butts or experience an allergic reaction or have any negative symptoms at all after consuming dairy, then there’s no dietary reason to avoid the other white gold.

Trends aren’t all bad.

Alternately, the most excellent part about a nom trend is greater national awareness & aid for those actually suffering. E.g. the number of undiagnosed cases of celiac disease is horrific. Let’s hope that the gluten-is-evil craze offers them a way to thrive again through self-discovery, along with 1,100 g-free options at every grocery store & restaurant.

Unanswered questions.

  • What’s the bioavailability of fortified vs. naturally occurring vitamins and minerals (how well is it used by the body)?
  • Does (solute) concentration of the liquid affect the body’s ability to use its nutrients?
  • Casein allergy & whey allergy details?
  • Lactose intolerance low-down?
  • Soy milk’s estrogen-like compounds?

Shtick around for Part III!

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