Many parents wonder, how much milk should a toddler drink, because it changes drastically at 1 years old! Get the answer, plus the best sippy cup for milk and what to do when your 2 year won’t eat and only drinks milk. (This post contains affiliate links.)
In the first year of a baby’s life, milk is a big deal! As parents, we learn very quickly in everything we read and in all that we are told that milk, in the form of formula or breast milk, is the only source of nutrition for a child for at least half of their first year of life, and even after 6 months of age, that food is just for fun. Milk is still the main attraction. But once babies turn one and become a toddler, is milk still just as important? How much milk should a toddler drink? Does it matter?
It does! Milk is still important for toddlers, but it definitely plays a much different role for a one and two year old. And, while this might surprise you, as a pediatric OT, I’ve seen milk (dare I say) cause or make picky eating worse, especially in toddlers and even 3 and 4 year olds! I know its shocking because milk is the ultimate drink/food, but the truth is, it’s all in how much milk a toddler drinks and when.
So stick with me and I’ll lay all the toddler milk guidelines out for to you, also including my picks for the best sippy cup for milk, the best milk for toddlers, and what to do when a one or two year old won’t eat and only drinks milk.
How Much Milk Should A Toddler Drink?
First, let’s talk about what a toddler actually is, as there is generally some confusion. Your baby technically becomes a toddler on their first birthday and that whole second year, they are toddlers until they reach two. Some folks, myself included, will consider 2 year olds toddlers as well. The end point of toddler-dom is less as important as knowing that it does begin at 12 months old. The reason it doesn’t matter is because the milk recommendation for toddlers is the same for all children through age 9!
So, how much milk should a toddler drink…
The clear and definitive answer is 2 cups or 16oz of milk in one day.
Remember, that starts at 12 months old. Of course, there is some transition time, after all, most babies at 10-11 months old are drinking between 24-30 oz of milk a day. The switch shouldn’t happen over night. But, once your child does reach their first birthday, it’s important to start being aware of how much milk they’re drinking and begin to focus more on their food. Milk is still VERY important for their development, it’s just no longer the star of the show. This can be hard to get used to as parents because the emphasis on milk was huge up until this point. Check out this study if you’d like to read more about why 2 cups of milk a day is the magic number that’s suggested.
It’s also okay for your toddler to drink up to 18-20 oz in a day, as long as they are eating well, some toddlers can handle and may even need those extra couple of ounces. The problem with going over 16 oz, after you’ve been through the weaning process, is that they may fill up on too many of their calories with milk and they won’t look to food to fill them up, which they now need to be doing.
It’s important for toddlers to learn to eat during the ages of one and two because it’s the foundation for their future eating skills, even if they seem to be picky eaters at this point, which is totally normal.
However, if your 1 or 2 year old won’t eat and only drinks milk, you may need to proceed a little differently, more on that in a bit!
On the other side of the coin, sometimes toddlers have a hard time drinking that full 2 cups in a day, especially when they are transitioning from bottles or breastfeeding. The experience of drinking from a cup can be very different for some kiddos, and it can take some time. In this case, cheese and yogurt also count as part of their two cups of milk in a given day. Some children never take to drinking much milk, most of the time that is just fine if your child is growing and developing well. But, your doctor may want to put your toddler on a vitamin D supplement or even a calcium supplement. Head over to Everything About Children’s Vitamin’s to find out more.
And, if you need some help with transitioning off of bottles, then check out bottle weaning. If you continue to breastfeed, or want stop, there are a couple of factors you’ll want to keep in mind to get your toddler eating off to a great start, check them out in weaning from breastfeeding.
When Should A Toddler Drink Milk?
This is really just as important of a question as “How much milk should a toddler drink?”, the guidelines go hand in hand because even if you’re only giving your toddler 16 oz of milk in a day, but you’re not giving it at the best time, it could still totally sabotage their eating, big time.
That ideal time for toddlers to drink milk is with their meals.
That is a big change right? Before, bottles or nursings were separate events away from a meal, but now its important to serve milk as part of the meal. This too, is a transition and does take some time. You can find a sample feeding schedule for toddlers that I think will be really helpful, if this suggestion seems overwhelming, and I know it can be.
Drinking milk during a meal is so important because if they are drinking milk in between, they never really have a chance to get hungry, and if they don’t have a chance to get hungry, they aren’t going to eat well. This can lead to picky eater toddlers very quickly, get other tips to prevent toddlers from becoming picky eating here.
Keeping milk and food together in one meal creates a healthy appetite cycle. Ideally, you’ll be looking to feed your toddler every 2.5 – 3 hours, whether that’s a snack or a main meal. The serving of milk can be equally divided among all those meals so they drink 3-4 ounces at every meal/snack or over three main meals with 5-6 ounces. Head to Toddler Portion Sizes to read more about how much food a toddler should eat, and if you need inspiration for food, I’ve got you covered with over 40 ideas in Easy Toddler Meals and in Toddler Lunch Ideas.
The Best Sippy Cup for Milk
At this point, your next question probably is, “What type of cup should a toddler drink milk from?”
My answer is definitely a straw sippy cup. You can read all about why I LOVE straws and how to teach your toddler to drink from a straw, but I will say that straw drinking is wonderful for speech and feeding development because it requires more coordination and is a more sophisticated skill. Drinking from a regular sippy cup is very similar to drinking from a bottle. For this reason, a regular sippy cup could be a good transition from a bottle, but I’d focus on using it temporarily as a way to get to the sippy cup with a straw.
All three of my kids used or are still using a sippy cup with a straw, and we’ve tried a lot of them over the years. One of my favorites for milk is the Avent straw cup because the straw is really easy to thread through the opening – trust me, this is a big deal when you’re unloading the dishwasher. But, I also like to have an insulated version, too, to keep milk cold. Again because of the ease of assembly I like this Playtex straw-sippy cup.
For really young toddlers though, I love this smaller munchkin version. My youngest son loved these and so did I because it was smaller (easier for him to hold), had handles, a weighted straw (so he could get every sip), and a long flexible straw that was easy to suck out of. Perfect for beginning or young straw drinkers!
To sum up my top three picks for the best sippy cup for milk:
- Munchkin Flexi-Straw Cup: perfect for young toddlers
- Playtex Sipsters Stage 3: insulated and great for older toddlers
- Avent: includes measuring lines to keep track of how much milk you’ve given, easy to use
There are a ton of options out there, whatever you choose you do want to make sure the straw is thin, thicker ones can mimic traditional sippy cups and defeat the benefit of using a straw.
Bonus Mom Tip: I give one milk cup a day to my toddler and keep it in the fridge between meals, that cuts down on wasting any milk he didn’t finish while eating.
The Best Milk for Toddlers
So that leads us to the last question that you likely have, “What is the best type of milk for a toddler?”
The quickest and shortest answer is: whole fat cow’s milk.
But, this question isn’t as cut and dry as the others. For instance, it’s totally great to still give your baby breast milk or nurse them. And, if your toddler is allergic to milk or dairy, your doctor will likely want your 1 year old on a special toddler formula. However, infant formula shouldn’t continue to be given. Also, in some instances with children that need extra calories, for a variety of reasons, doctors will prescribe a special toddler formula for that purpose.
By in large, most toddlers will drink cow’s milk, and unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it should be whole milk. Sometimes it’s recommended at age 2 to drop down to 2%. Personally, I prefer to keep kids on whole milk, as long as too much weight isn’t an issue.
However, it’s becoming increasingly common for children to develop severe constipation or other digestion problems from dairy, you’ll want to keep an eye out for that. This was definitely the case with my oldest son. We saw immediate relief at age 2 when reducing his milk to 2%. Ultimately, we ended up switching him to almond milk, my second son followed the same pattern. You can find more solutions for constipation here, if that is a challenge for you too! Please note though that almond milk and other milk alternatives generally aren’t recommended for young toddlers because they have much lower calories and fat. You’ll definitely want to discuss any concerns with your milk selection with their doctor.
Lastly, whether you decide to go organic or not is a personal choice. I will tell you that we do. If this is something your on the fence about, I’ve got you covered in Does Buying Organic Matter? This guide will help you feel good about your choice to buy organic milk or not.
Help: “My 2 Year Won’t Eat and Only Drinks Milk”
You are not alone! Some picky eater toddlers rely on milk as their major and sometimes only source of nutrition. Suddenly cutting down how much their drinking to only 2 cups might not change anything about their eating because it’s likely that there’s something contributing to their picky eating that needs addressed or worked through. Read about 5 different reasons kids don’t eat.
Before you decrease how much milk they have, it’s really important as step number one to get a solid mealtime routine in place. I have 9 tips to improve eating that are essential to making any progress with kids not wanting to eat. You find those out in Good Eating Habits for Kids.
Once you have that solid routine in place, you can start to give milk with meals only and slowly reducing how much milk they’re drinking. Take baby steps if you need to, taking away milk for just an hour at first, assuming they always have access to it. Or, maybe put a couple less ounces in their cup and sit them at the table with at least one food they’re most likely to eat and their milk instead of walking around and drinking.
If possible, you’ll also want to avoid distractions, like using a TV or tablet, to help your child eat. I know it gives a quick win, but in the long run its going to hurt their eating. Find out more in why screen time and eating are a bad idea. Most of the time, slowly weaning away from those distractions is a great place to start if you’re relying on them during meals.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to look into feeding therapy if you think you need some help. It never hurts to at least go and see! And, if you live in the U.S., you might qualify for free early intervention (that means therapists actually come to your house).
To take steps making changes in your home right away though, save a seat in my totally free workshop: 3 Keys to Turn Around Picky Eating! These are my BEST strategies and they can have a huge impact on your child eating more foods and drinking less milk.
More on Feeding Toddlers from Your Kid’s Table
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