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, any will do for your toddler, right? Wrong! Learn how to choose the best plant based milk drinks 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 alternatives
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 or even your baby in cooking.
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 two years, 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 plant-based milk alternative 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 drinks for you to choose from.
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. This includes soy drink for babies under 6 months or even 1 year of age. You can use soy drinks in cooking porridge or preparing 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 in 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 a medical condition whereby soy infant formula may be indicated would this be used as first line.
Children following a vegan lifestyle may be able to have soy formula, but 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, protein and iodine
Oatly Oat Drink
Oatly oat drink has ‘whole’ and ‘semi-skimmed’ varieties so the calories do vary. Pick the ‘whole’ version if your toddler needs the 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 milk, making it a great plant based alternative for toddlers with allergies. Just note that this wouldn’t be suitable for children with coeliac disease.
Often parents enquire if they can switch to 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.
I found the M&S Oat drinks handy too. You’ll find it in the chilled section of the store and 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 may be a better choice.
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 when making a white sauce. Oat milk should never be used as a replacement for breast milk or your baby’s specialist infant formula. Please speak to your paediatric dietitian for specialist advice.
Best for: children with dairy/soy allergies, no added sugars
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, toddlers with multiple food allergies, vegan diet
Pea ‘M.LK’ / Drink
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.
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 “Healthy Eating for Kids” on any podcast listening app.
Do you need help?
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Whether you are worried about picky eating, food allergy or need to help your child build a healthy relationship with food, I’ll help you manage these with confidence.
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