5 Milk Alternatives Your Kids Will Enjoy
If you have a lactose-intolerant little one, you may be wondering what he can drink or put on his cereal instead of milk. Here are a few great-tasting options.
When your child gets a diagnosis of lactose intolerance, it can be scary. After all, dairy is an important part of a balanced diet. In fact, according to Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian and lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating, "Dairy is where we get most of our calcium and vitamin D -- two nutrients essential to bone growth." Additionally, milk is packed with protein and potassium, which makes it perfect for growing bodies.
Luckily, there are some great milk alternatives on the market today that offer a lot of the same nutrients as milk -- without the lactose or other allergens. When it comes to searching for the best alternative, "Aim for varieties that contain between four to nine grams of protein per cup to make it comparable to cow's milk," says registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, the creator of Mommyhood Bytes. Additionally, avoid varieties with added sugars. "Watch out for sugar, corn syrup, cane juice and words ending in -ose in the ingredients list," recommends Palinksi-Wade. To keep your little one free of the unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms that come along with lactose intolerance, make sure everybody in your child's life, from teacher to babysitter, knows that dairy products can upset their stomach.
Here are five milk alternatives that check off all the boxes and taste great:
- Lactose-Free Milk
If your child is lactose intolerant and doesn't have an allergy to milk protein, lactose-free milk may be the best solution. This type of milk is almost indistinguishable from "regular" milk and contains the same amount of fat, protein, carbohydrate and calorie content. It's also comparable in calcium and vitamin D. According to Palinski-Wade, "Lactose-free milk contains an enzyme that the body lacks to help breakdown the lactose in milk." Otherwise, it's the same milk your family has always enjoyed.
- Soy Milk
This soy-based option has been the go-to milk alternative for years. According to Ficek, "Soy milk's nutrition profile closely resembles that of cow's milk." Additionally, most brands also fortify their milk with calcium and vitamin D, making it an excellent alternative to regular milk. However, Ficek warns that parents should always examine the nutrition label to find calcium and vitamin D values because not every brand includes this extra fortification. Certain brands also contain lots of added sugars and flavors, so double check the ingredient list.
- Almond Milk
Recently, almond milk become a very popular alternative to milk. It's creamy, tasty and low in calories. "However, almond milk is lower in protein and saturated fat than cow's milk," says Palinksi-Wade. Just like soy milk, most brands are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. According to Palinksi-Wade, it's a great alternative, as long as your child is getting enough protein and saturated fat in other areas of her diet -- and you watch out for added flavors and sugars.
- Coconut Milk
Rich and creamy, coconut milk contains 30 percent of your daily value of vitamin D and 50 percent of your daily value of vitamin B12, according to Ficek. It also provides as much saturated fat as whole cow's milk (which is important for children under 2). However, it doesn't quite hit the mark as far as calcium or protein per cup, so these nutrients will have to be made up in other areas of the diet.
- Rice Milk
This option has a neutral taste, but buyer beware: It's higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fat than milk. The one benefit of rice milk is that it's very non-allergenic, according to Palinksi-Wade. "I would recommend options such as coconut, soy and almond milk above this, but if a child has a large amount of dietary allergies, this can be an acceptable alternative," she says.
For the most part, you can use these alternatives the same way you would regular milk. You can drink them straight, pour them over cereal or add them to smoothies. The only difference that comes into play is with baking.
"I wouldn't recommend just substituting any kind of milk for baking," says Ficek. Instead, she advises mimicking the individual recipe as closely as possible, pointing to unflavored soy milk as the most universal option. If your child is younger than two, be sure to discuss your child's milk intolerance with your pediatrician. In some cases, a fortified formula is a better option than these milk alternatives for very young children.
Is your little one also sensitive to gluten? Check out these 3 Gluten-Free Birthday Cake Recipes for Kids.
Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and family topics.
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