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For many parents, the toddler years can prove challenging when it comes to dietary patterns and food preferences. Small children are notoriously fussy and often parents relent and feed them whatever they will eat, which is not always ideal nutritionally. Busy parents need convenient yet nutritious and child friendly options to help strike a balance between nutrition and the reality of what small children will eat.
Toddler milk is a product that has become increasingly popular in recent years as a supplement or alternative to cow’s milk. And although toddler milks are fortified with vitamins and minerals, they have been openly criticised by health professionals, with many arguing it is simply not necessary to use a special milk for toddlers. Many say toddlers can get all the nutrients they require in a normal healthy diet, which includes regular cow’s milk.
Yet — the market for toddler milk continues to grow. So, do you need toddler milk? And, should you choose to use toddler milk with your family, how should it be incorporated?
While a balanced diet will give toddlers the nutrients they require, it can be argued that very few toddlers are actually eating the range of foods needed to obtain the optimal intake of essential nutrients.
Sure, they may be getting plenty of calories via carbohydrate-rich meals and snacks like bread, rice crackers, snack bars, fruit, sweet yogurt and milk. But the data shows toddlers are rarely consuming the amounts of lean meat, fish and vegetables they require to get the optimal amount of iron, zinc, iodine, fibre and Omega 3 required.
When you consider the ideal toddler food intake compared to what the average toddler actually eats, there is a place for toddler milk as part of a balanced dietary pattern.
I am not saying toddler milk is a necessity. But in the diets of toddlers, it can be a nutrient rich addition — especially for toddlers who are particularly fussy and likely to be missing out on key nutrients. Other benefits of including a serve of toddler milk each day in the diet of your toddler include:
1. Toddler milk ticks the box of a number of key vitamins and minerals
Unlike cow’s milk, toddler milk offers a significant proportion of a number of essential vitamins and minerals toddlers need for growth and development including iron, zinc, calcium and iodine. For poor meat and vegetable eaters, this means toddlers still get the nutrients they would ideally be getting via fresh foods.
2. Toddler milk contains iodine
Iodine is a key nutrient that is notoriously low in the diets of Australians. Iodine is essential for brain development and metabolism — and low levels in pregnancy and early childhood are linked to reduced cognitive function. Toddler milk offers the added benefit of iodine, which is found in few other foods.
3. Toddler milk contains Omega 3 fats
It can be really hard to get toddlers and small children to eat the amounts of fresh fish they require to get an optimal amount of omega 3 fat. Toddler milks offer the added benefit of long chain omega 3 fats.
4. Toddler milk may contain added extras such as prebiotics
As we learn more about nutrition, we learn more about the importance of gut health. Prebiotics are important in helping feed the good bacteria in the gut, as well as helping to reduce constipation.
5. Toddler milk is a back-up meal option
When toddlers are tired, reluctant to eat a typical meal, or simply off their food, toddler milk is a convenient meal replacement option that can give you peace of mind that your little one has received the nutrients they require.
Susie is a consultant to Bellamy’s Organic. Bellamy’s do manufacture toddler milk. These are though her own views on the use of toddler milk as both a paediatric dietitian and as a mum. After working with Bellamy’s and through her own research, she has come to appreciate the benefits of toddler milk drinks and the role they can play in a toddler’s diet, particularly toddlers who are fussy eaters. This is not to say that toddler milk is for everyone, it is simply one nutrient rich options that can play a role in the diets of toddlers.