Need help sourcing the best plant based milk for toddlers?
It’s Veganuary so you might be thinking about eating less meat and more plant-based foods this year. You hit the supermarket and you decide to pick a plant based milk alternative for you and your children.
Any will do for your baby or toddler, right? Wrong!
Learn how to choose the best plant based milk for your toddler as what’s right for you, won’t be the best choice for your infant or toddler. Confused?
Keep reading to find out which ones I recommend.
How to spot the best plant based milk for babies and toddlers
I recommend using a checklist and if you are working with me, I will provide you with one.
As a general rule of thumb, there are a few crucial macro and micronutrients that you should look out for when selecting a plant based milk alternative for your toddler.
If its just for cooking with, the best plant based milk for baby and toddler should be fortified with the correct nutrients.
Look for the below key nutrients when screening for any type of plant drink:
- vitamin B12
- other B vitamins
- vitamin D
If your toddler is healthy and over the age of 12 months, you probably can switch from cow’s milk to a plant based milk drink safely.
If you have any questions on whether a vegan lifestyle is right for your family and whether vegan diets are safe for children, do read:
The problem lies in picking a brand and best plant-based milk for toddlers that offers the correct nutrients to help replace the key nutrients that cow’s milk offered.
The good news is that with the popularity of plant-based diets, there are now at least three different fortified plant milks for you to choose from.
Best vegan milk for babies and toddlers
Breastmilk is the best for infants under 12 months of age.
If your baby is unable to have breastmilk then the next best option is a suitable infant formula.
The variety of available vegan milks are not suitable as a main drink for babies under 12 months of age.
You can however use any of the recommended list of best vegan milk for babies and toddlers below to use in cooking, to make porridge, white sauces or custards and rice puddings.
If your baby has a cows milk protein allergy, then your paediatric dietitian and doctor will recommend a suitable extensively hydrolysed protein infant formula as the main drink.
You can of course, use any of the best plant based milks outlined below in cooking.
Alpro Soya Growing Up Drink 1-3+
Soy is one of the best dairy free plant based milk alternative drinks. Soy protein contains all 9 essential proteins making it a great choice for growth.
The amount of protein is lower than the amount present in cow’s milk itself, but it does still contain the highest amount of protein compared to the other plant based milk alternative drinks for toddlers.
I recommend choosing Alpro Soya Growing Up Drink if you need a well rounded plant based milk alternative for toddlers that has decent calories, protein, added B vitamins, vitamin D and iodine.
The calcium content is also comparable to cow’s milk.
However, do remember to shake the carton well before serving as the calcium tends to settle at the bottom.
The added bonus is that this soya drink is also fortified with iron.
Although it’s questionable how well iron will be absorbed in the presence of calcium.
Calcium can prevent iron from being absorbed well in the gut regardless of whether the calcium is from dairy or from a fortified source. Work with a paediatric dietitian if your child following a plant based diet also suffers from iron deficiency anaemia.
Soy for under 6 months old
We don’t recommend using plant based alternatives as the main source of drink for babies under 12 months of age.
This includes soy drink for babies under 6 months or even 1 year of age.
You can use soy drinks to make porridge or to prepare a sauce, but never as the main source of drink for babies under 6 months of age.
What about soy based infant formula?
Infants under 6 months of age should generally avoid soy based formula due to some concerns around the impact of isoflavones on the reproductive organs in young infants.
This is due to the dose of isoflavones per kg of body weight which would be higher in small children.
Only children with certain medical conditions like galactosaemia might be recommended to use a soy based infant formula.
Children following a vegan lifestyle will also be able to have soy infant formula after discussing with a paediatric dietitian.
Do speak to a paediatric dietitian like myself or your family doctor for individualised advice. More on soy food can be found here.
Best for: children following vegan diets, source of protein and iodine
Oat milk for babies
You can use oat milk for babies but only in cooking when you start weaning.
You can use oat milk for your baby when preparing porridge or to make a white sauce. Due to its nutrient profile, it can easily become the best plant based milk for babies to cook with.
Oat milk should never be used as a replacement for breast milk or your baby’s specialist infant formula if they are under the age of 12 months.
If your baby has been diagnosed with cows milk protein allergy, then pick a plant milk that is also fortified with calcium and iodine.
Please speak to your paediatric dietitian for specialist advice.
Oatly Oat Drink
Oatly oat drink has ‘whole’ and ‘semi-skimmed’ varieties so the calories do vary.
Pick the Barrista or ‘whole’ version if your toddler needs a plant based milk with good amounts of calories and you are looking for plant based milk alternatives that are not soy based.
This is a great option if your child is unable to have soya based drink due to a milk allergy.
This makes fortified oat milk a great plant based alternative for babies and toddlers with allergies.
Just note that this wouldn’t be suitable for children with coeliac disease.
Often parents often ask which plant based milk is best for 1 year olds, if they are unable to have soy.
Oat based drinks can be a suitable alternative for cow’s milk, however, your toddler’s overall nutritional intake of protein and vitamins will need close monitoring.
M&S Oat milk
I found the M&S Oat drinks handy too.
You’ll find it in the chilled section of the store and it is also iodine fortified. However, availability can be an issue as it sells out quickly in some of the smaller boutique stores.
Although I’ve listed as the second choice, if your child is avoiding all animal foods then the KoKo Super could also be an excellent choice.
Best for: milk allergy in babies, milk allergy in toddlers, children with soy allergies, no added sugar
Alpro Oat Growing Up Milk
This is an exciting new kid on the block!
Similar to it’s soy version, this oat milk is aimed at toddlers following a plant-based diet or children living with a dairy allergy.
The good news is that it is higher in protein compared to the Oatly range.
This oat milk is also fortified with the following nutrients:
- calcium 120mg per 100ml
- zinc 0.9mg per 100ml
- iron 1.4 mg per 100ml
- iodine 11.3 ug per 100ml
- vitamin b12 0.38 ug per 100 ml
- vitamin D 1.5 ug per 100ml
Although this vegan milk is fortified with iodine, the levels per 100ml are low.
Children following a plant-based diet will need to monitor their overall iodine intake carefully.
Note that the Alpro Oat Growing Up Milk contains maltodextrin.
Maltodextrin isn’t classified as sugar, but like sugar, it is digested quickly in the body.
Best for: milk allergy in babies, milk allergy in toddlers, children with soy allergies
Koko Super Dairy Free Drink
If you are looking for a coconut based drink this one is perfect in breakfast cereals and as a drink on it’s own.
Unlike most other coconut drinks, there’s no added rice milk which should be avoided in children under the age of five years. This is due to the presence of organic arsenic that is naturally present in rice and rice based products.
Read more about the other plant drinks here:
What I love about this drink is that there are some additional vitamins and minerals which can be useful for picky eaters. There’s nothing remarkable about the amount of added iron and zinc though. A 200ml serving may help meet around 15-20% of daily requirements depending on your child’ age.
There are very good amounts of vitamin A and calcium, nutrients that are both essential for growing toddlers.
Best for: calcium, milk allergy in babies (for cooking), toddlers with multiple food allergies, vegan diet
Pea milk or Pea ‘M.LK’
I spotted this pea milk drink when surfing the internet. I am going to be honest with you, I haven’t used pea drinks in a very long time.
I first remember recommending pea drinks around ten years ago when I was working with children with multiple food allergies.
The previous brand disappeared from the market and I had genuinely forgotten about it until I spotted this.
I haven’t discussed the pea drinks in the corresponding podcast episode for this blog article. I haven’t tasted it or recommended it to my clients yet, so I don’t feel recommending it to you just yet.
It’s also a little too low in calories for children in my opinion. The levels of iodine and calcium is respectable, however, unless your toddler couldn’t have the top three plant-based milk drinks in the list of recommendations above, I wouldn’t be rushing to recommend it for children at present.
Nevertheless, it may be handy in cooking or baking. Drop me a line if you have used it and are enjoying it or DM me over at instagram @ukkidsnutrition.
Dairy free diet for kids
If you are interested in plant-based milk alternatives for your toddler following a dairy-free diet, then this article on How To Design The Best Dairy Free Meal Plan will help.
The bottom line
If you are planning to switch from cow’s milk to one of the plant-based milk drinks for your toddler, then do pick wisely. Consider whether your toddler is a picky eater, has other food allergies or high energy requirements.
Work with a paediatric dietitian to help you decide which milk alternatives are best. Always liaise with your paediatric dietitian for individualised and bespoke advice.
The information in this blog post is for your information only and should never be used to replace the advice given to you by your medical doctor or specialist paediatric dietitian.
Did you enjoy today’s post?
Then you may enjoy the podcast version of this blog article. Hit play below to listen or search for “Kids Nutrition Podcast” on any podcast listening app.
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