Preschoolers & Milk

Parent Q&A

  • My child went from breast milk to almost no milk at all around age 20 months. We've tried cow whole fat, cow reduced fat, goat milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, but he's always been a fan of plain old WATER. Milk just sits around getting warm and getting tossed out. He's almost 4 now, used to be above average on the height chart, but now he's slightly below average for his age.  He sometimes eats tofu, broccoli, almonds, coco-yogurt (he doesn't like cow yogurt), and I feel like he's barely cobbling together enough calcium from here and there, and maybe I should push the milk (any kind) more, but not sure how to go about it.

    I've tried milk+cereal, but he scoops out as much of the dry cereal as possible and leaves the milk behind.

    We're against added sugars so chocolate and strawberry flavored milks are out.

    Any suggestions? I would prefer to not use bribery or threats because he's otherwise a healthy and hearty eater.

    In my experience, milk is one of those foods people either like or don't like, and if they don't like it, drinking it is really unpleasant for them.  I like milk, my husband hates it, and my son absolutely loves it (to the tune of a half-gallon a day..)  My husband and my son both have strong bones.  There are many other sources of calcium, and some studies out there, I believe, to the effect that milk is not necessarily the healthiest source of calcium or other minerals anyway.  (The dairy industry apparently has really good PR which is why we all think young kids should drink a lot of milk).  I personally think it's bad for your skin too (my son has acne).  Also, even if it doesn't have added sugar, it's my understanding that even regular milk has a fair amount of sugar. That said, if you want more dairy in his diet, how does he feel about cheese?

    P.S. kids do move around on the growth chart, too, so try not to stress about that too much.

    Yes, it is common for children to not like milk for awhile after weaning from breast milk.  Breastmilk is so sweet and creamy, really nothing else compares!  Sounds like you are worried that his growth is slowing down...please ask your pediatrician if this is related to his diet, so you don't have to worry.  Kids pick up on the pressure we feel around how they are eating, and that can make him very resistant to milk.  3 and 4 years old is an age when kids eat very little, their growth really slows compared to the 1 year old kid.  Typically 2 cups of milk or the equivalent is recommended for kids his age.  Some kids like smoothies, try mango or banana blended with milk, offer 2-4 oz at a time.  Cheese is an excellent option, every 1.5 oz cheese ( 2 cheese sticks) is equivalent of one cup of milk.  Some make muffins using dry milk powder to get a bit more calcium.  But if he doesn't eat dairy, just know that the small amount of calcium in other foods tends to add up.  Don't worry about adding up the amounts, just offer a variety of foods that contain calcium.  Some breakfast cereals have a lot of calcium in them, without drinking the milk.  

    Just to put your mind at ease, my son hated milk and dairy, too. And he grew up in France where drinking tons of milk is considered vital for children! so his pediatrician was worried about it. He would eat some hard cheeses like gruyere and emmenthal, which are high in calcium, and plain yogurt, but not too much. I finally gave up around age 3 and he's 6'2" today at age 16, so he grew just fine! However, if you do want to have him drink some calcium, have you tried a fruit-flavored liquid calcium supplement? I used this one, which is cheap in Europe, but you might find something like it. I mixed it with water in his sippy cup and he would drink it.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


3-year old not drinking milk

Jan 2010

Hello, My 3-years old daughter has given up on milk completely. She doesn't like any kind/form of milk -- yogurt, cheese, anything. What should I do? She's not a good eater to begin with and on top of that, she gave up her milk intake as well. Can you please share your experience if your child also went thru this -- is this a phase that shall pass? Please help. anon

Our daughter stopped drinking milk at that age too, when she finally gave up a bottle. We are not juice people, but we ended up giving her calcium-fortified orange juice because nothing else worked. It's a lot of sugar, but we wanted her to get the calcium. We also gave her gummy bear calcium pills (a big hit) -- cheaper at Costco. Then, a year later she tried vanilla soy milk and loved it! So now she drinks Kikkoman vanilla soy milk, which has all the calcium, the same amount of sugar, and more iron as cow's milk. So, you could think of orange juice or calcium pills as a temporary fix until your kid's tastes change again. Good luck.

Really little kids will eat what feel goods and won't eat items that makes them feel bad (out of only healthy food choices). Meaning have your child tested for a dairy allergy! Dairy products really aren't all that they are cracked up to be. Many studies say humans really should not drink milk particularly cow's milk after nursing. I hated butter and cheese when I was younger and I was a super healthy kid. Some people have more sensitive taste buds and they can taste fats which taste bad to them. Dairy allergies can affect sleep and make kids fussy and miserable. Kids need healthy food, some sunshine (vitamin D helps kids absorb calcium for healthy bones), good environment with appropriate amounts of mental stimulation, social stimulation and alone individual time, lots of exercise so when they sleep their sleep is sound, love and patience. Stephanie

Milk is not healthy for all children. When my daughter was 3 she began getting ear infections from milk. Also it can give some children gas. amma

3.5 year old detests milk

Feb 2009

My daughter has never liked drinking milk, but now that she's decided that she also doesn't like yogurt, cheese and even milkshakes I'm a little concerned that she's not getting enough calcium. Of course, brocolli and other vegetable sources of calcium are pretty much out of the question. Other than the milk and vegetable aversions, she's a pretty adventurous eater. Any advice? Jessica

I'll be reading the responses with interest since I have a child the same age with the same issue. After reading a good bit and talking with my pediatrician, I came to some conclusions. Calcium is essential to establishing bone health and a lack of it can't be ''fixed'' later & it's really difficult to get enough calcium without dairy. It takes a whole lot of leafy greens to equal a cup of milk! Our ped. also emphasized that the advantage of drinking milk is the easy habit of it-- a glass of milk with meals goes far toward assuring daily calcium needs are met. But, my girl just despised milk! My ped said to offer milk only (no water) at meals-- but I couldn't stomach the fight.

Here's what I did. I spent a week keeping careful track of her calcium intake each day after looking up recommended amounts. That gave me a good sense of how much calcium she needs and how much is in various things. I swallowed my anti-sugar feelings, and offered up chocolate or strawberry milk and serve that at dinner (her choice). Then I ask her to try at least a sip before we get her water and do my best to delay getting the water. Over many months, this has actually worked! She now will drink whole glasses of chocolate milk, though at first it seemed hopeless. Now I'm working on cutting down the amount of flavoring in the milk.

A lot of trial and error has led us to some other foods. My daughter will eat tubes of yogurt if they've been frozen and are the right flavor and has just started in the last month eating a certain brand of yogurt which she was introduced to in preschool (it's not organic, and has Dora on it, but what you gonna do?). We make her oatmeal for breakfast cooked with milk instead of water-- she gets a lot more milk this way than she does having a bowl of cereal, since she tends to eat around the milk. Some kinds of cheese, some days, she eats. Also, I know they make fortified OJ and perhaps other juices-- maybe you could ask your pediatrician about those? Basically, I'm trying to sneak in calcium where I can while I work on establishing a life-long (or childhood-long) habit of eating high-calcium foods. Writing this has made me realize I should probably spend a week tracking her calcium again, because I think I've been slacking off a bit! I know there's a lot of anti-dairy feeling out there, so maybe some folks will write in with great high-calcium non-dairy tips for our little ones! Calcium Challenged

Our 4 year old son has tested allergic to milk, so instead we give him plenty of fortified rice drink, as well as hemp milk (especially the chocolate, YUM) and almond milk. Trader Joe's sells the rice drink (unsweetened vanilla) in the large box and it is quite economical. We also give him ''milkshakes'' where we mix in chocolate flavored multivitamin supplements from mycokids, which he loves.

I would think he gets more than enough calcium because we are so aware, versus when he was drinking milk and we didn't pay much attention. A large part of the world does not use milk as part of their traditional diet (eg China) so I would not worry about it, and definitely don't force her to drink milk if she hates it, she's probably allergic! Tamar

Hello, My child also refused to eat any dairy products even Ice Cream when he was little. It turned out, he is lactose intolerant... I give him Lil'Critters Calcium Gummy Bears every day. Good luck.

We buy orange juice with added calcium. Fortified cereals can also be good sources. Here's a link to a USDA list of calcium content in foods, sorted from most to least calcium per serving (note that some of their serving sizes are not in line with a typical serving): A lot of the top items are things you would expect, like dairy, but there are a few surprises. Carrie

Calcium fortified cereals. Also try out calcium fortified soya, almond or rice milk with the cereal. When your child is 4, you can offer chewable calcium supplements from Animal Parade. Never underestimate the power of a purreed soup. My husband makes a nice mung bean stew with carrots, kale or chard, onions and all kinds of healthy stuff my daughter hates. When he throws it in a blender, it comes out as a nice tasty thicker than soup substance and she loves that with multi-grain toasted Naan or crackers for dipping. That has become a once a week meal. Younger Kids often resist various colors and textures. Find out their favorite color and blend a stew accordingly. Fortunately my daughter likes the color green, but she would never eat leafy greens the way they originally come. Anonymous

Almonds? Supplements? There are lots of kid-friendly supplements out there. My 9- yr old has NEVER liked milk and only eats 2 kinds of vegetables. My 4-yr old is allergic to cow's milk and won't eat ANY vegetables. Supplements are our calcium of choice for the time being. Good luck! Milk-free zone, too

Listen to your daughter! Most likely, like many many people, she is hypersensitive to cow dairy and shouldn't be ingesting it. Try goat milk and/or more raw nuts other greens, and probably some type of high quality calcium (with some magnesium) supplementation. There some pretty good liquid ones out there. Trust her gut on this Mom! Dr. C

Our almost four year old does not like milk or cheese. She goes through phases where she'll eat yogurt (I buy 1% organic with fruit flavoring, e.g. Clover) but then she'll go through a time period (a few weeks) where she's not interested in yogurt either. She loves ice cream but that is an occasional treat.

We give her watered down calcium fortified orange juice as her main drink, so that she gets some calcium during the course of the day, a daily multi-vitamin that has some calcium in it, and try to also provide calcium-rich foods like broccoli, calcium- rich tofu, soybeans, and more recently almonds. Tofu and broccoli definitely are her main sources; edamane is a big hit but I probably only serve that once a week.

Anecdotally, we're pretty sure there's a reason why she doesn't want milk. My husband seems slightly lactose intolerant in that he gets congested/stuffy when he eats a lot of milk (like in cereal or whatever) so we recognize that our daughter's preference about milk might be based on her own physiology and we try to make up for it with other stuff. It helps to look at web sites focused on calcium for vegans; you'll get some more ideas. Erin