Teach my child about 'Milk and Dairy'
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Milk and Dairy Overview

Milk and Dairy Overview

Milk and Dairy products are an important part of a daily balanced diet for children. As well as other vitamins, these provide Vitamin D for general health, calcium, potassium for healthy bones and teeth and protein for growth and development as well as calories for energy and growth. Increased dairy intake is said to reduce the chances of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease but some dairy products are higher in saturated fats so it is important to choose the correct ones and not to go overboard.

Milk products come from mainly from mammals (primarily cows but also buffalo, goats and sheep) but vegans or lactose intolerant people will typically substitute with plant based 'milks' e.g. rice milk or soy milk which are made from brown rice or soybeans and normally fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Obviously babies are heavily dependent on milk, either their mother's milk or formula milk. Cows milk should not be given to children under 1 year of age since it does not possess a full range of nutrients and is difficult for them to digest. Between the ages of 1 - 2 children should be given full fat milk then between the ages of 2 and 3 kids can switch to semi skimmed 2% milk. After that guidelines differ. Some countries say to only drop to 1% fat milk after the age of 5 or 6 whereas the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) now recommends moving to fat free or 1% ft milk much earlier (2-3). There is no need to push them to skimmed milk though as there is too much loss of nutrients

Cheese : Cheese is quite high in protein (great for growth and development) and is packed full of calcium and phosphorous for teeth and bones and vitamin B12 (helps immune system). However, it should be eaten in moderation since it usually contains a reasonable amount of unhealthy saturated fats too. For this reason harder cheeses are best or just eat less of the normal stuff!

Butter : On the plus side butter is full of vitamins e.g. vitamins A and E and a good source of minerals. It also contains anti-oxidants and anti-fungal properties too as well as being good for the brain and skin. Butter does have a high level of saturated fat which for many years was the reason why margarine (spreads) became so popular but the trouble with these is that they are artificial and made from refining factories and for a long time contained lots of the worst kinds of fats (hydrogenated trans fats). Some margarines still contain these. There is more and more evidence that butter is better for you than margarine but our recommendation would be, yes have butter instead of margarine but as for cheese, have in moderation.

Creme Fraiche : creme fraiche is a thickened cream originating in France that is low in salt (sodium) and sugar while having the obligatory large dose of healthy calcium for those bones and teeth. It is reasonably high in saturated fat so again we would advise to have in moderation or substitute with (for example) low fat soured cream.

Custard : Custards are made from milk. If they are made from whole milk then they will have more energy (calories) and fat (approximately 4%) than if they were made from semi skimmed or skimmed milk (less calories and low fat). No matter what source the milk is, custard is a source of protein, minerals and vitamins though again whole milk derived custard is a better source in terms of these.

Ice Cream : Always go for natural, organic ice cream which is not full of preservatives and chemical substances. Ice Cream should be used as an occasional treat and not on a regular basis. Frozen yoghurts have less fat and calories. If whole milk and cream is used for the ice cream then there is likely to be lots of nutrients including protein and vitamins and minerals but also more calories and fat. Ice cream tends to be a good source of vitamin B12.

Many ice creams bought in supermarkets are just packed to the brim full of sugar (bad for your child's weight and teeth) but even worse, chemical additives. Some chemicals that are used are piperonal (a fragrance used in vanilla ice cream that has seen uses for killing lice in hospitals), Aldehyde C-17 (used as a cherry flavouring but also used in rubber and plastic products and Amyl Acetate used as a banana flavouring but also as a solvent for oil paints! This is why many ice creams taste synthetic. Because they are.

Infant Formula : The World Health Organisation tries to promote natural breastfeeding where possible. This is considered best from a health perspective for babies up to 1 year old. There are countless MAJOR health benefits of natural breastfeeding but if there is a major reason why this cannot be done (e.g. absence of mother, mother's health, mother unable to produce enough milk etc.) then top brand infant formulas should obviously be used. The key is to follow the manufacturers instructions to the letter and do not deviate from them.

Powdered Milk : this is made by evaporating the water out of normal milk until it is dry. In theory it has many of the benefits of fresh milk but in practice we would recommend avoiding it except where infant formula has to be used instead of breast milk for babies typically under 1 year old..

Soured Cream : Soured cream is slightly thickened cream with some bacterial cultures added for the 'souring' effect. It has lots of calcium and phosphorous ( good news for bones and teeth) as well as B vitamins for healthy development of nervous systems amongst other things. Of course, as with all creams, it contains quite a bit of saturated fat so go easy on quantities ( a tablespoon is more typical of what you should be having rather than a bowlful!).

Whey : After milk has been curdled to make cheese the remaining strained liquid by-product is whey. It can be used in food additives, ricotta cheeses, animal feeds and when the protein is isolated from the whey then it is often used by bodybuilders and sportspeople. Children are not likely to come across whey alone and we would not recommend giving whey protein supplement to children unless a paediatrician recommends it. Far better to ensure the child eats a balanced diet including protein rich foods.

Yoghurt : Yoghurt is fermented milk produced by adding harmless bacteria culture to milk which have no effect on the nutritional value. Sweetened yoghurts are higher in calories than natural yoghurts due to the addition of sugar. Some yoghurts have artificial sweeteners added for this reason. Protein in yoghurts tends to be of a very high quality with a full range of easily digestible amino acids. Fat contents vary wildly from 10% (Greek style yoghurts) down to virtually zero. Yoghurts tend to be rich in B Vitamins which help all sorts of body functions such as metabolism and skin health. In terms of minerals, yoghurts usually contain lots of calcium, phosphorous and iodine. These help bones & teeth and metabolic functions.

Recommended Dairy Intakes for Children

The USDA recommends the following daily milk intake

Age Range Cups of Milk (4 cups is approx. 1 litre)
2 - 3 2.0
4 - 8 2.5
9 - 18 3.0

Allergies and Intolerances

Milk Allergy : This can be potentially life threatening if it leads to a allergic reaction called Anaphylaxis. A typical allergy is to the protein from the animal's milk and can result in gastric problems, rashes, dermatitis or vomiting. Alternative milks such as soy or rice milks may have to be substituted if this is diagnosed.

Lactose Intolerance : The natural sugar in milk, lactose, is sometimes not digested well by some children causing bloating and pain in the gut. Children can take a lactose intolerance test which tests blood sugar levels before and after drinking milk. If children are diagnosed as being intolerant to lactose then it is important to understand that cutting back on dairy will need to be carefully planned. Alternative sources of calcium especially plus some other minerals and vitamins need to be found as well as identifying all lactose containing foods (including chocolate).


Dairy products are really healthy for your child unless they have an intolerance or allergy. They provide the key macro-nutrients ( carbs, fat, proteins) as well as the relevant micro-nutrients ( vitamins and minerals). Due to high fat levels in some dairy products it is recommended to have high fat or high sugar content items only occasionally and in moderate quantities. Try and make sure children get the recommended daily quantities of milk as per the USDA guidelines.


"The Benefits of Dairy Foods" by the UK The Dairy Council

"The Benefits of Dairy Foods" by the UK The Dairy Council

The UK Dairy Council is a non-profit organisation which provides scientific information for dairy foods. This resource includes information for weaning (including foods linked to allergies, foods to avoid etc.) as well as food for pre-school children, primary school children and teenagers. Typical info for each section includes information on dairy and a balanced diet, calcium, other nutrients, school food, fussy eating and healthy weight.


"Milk and Dairy Foods" Info from the UK National Health Service

"Milk and Dairy Foods" Info from the UK National Health Service

This resource includes information on cheese and the high fat content of some cheeses and butter. Some information on pasteurisation is described along with milk allergy and intolerance data. Information on recommended dairy intake for pregnant mothers, babies and toddlers is described too.


"Cows Milk Dairy allergy" info from Ascia (Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy)

"Cows Milk Dairy allergy" info from Ascia (Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy)

This resource includes fascinating and extremely useful information about how cow's milk can give an allergic reaction very quickly or sometimes a number of days afterwards. How to cope with this very difficult dietary situation is described.