What Should My Toddler Be Drinking?

  • Article
  • October 26, 2016

Toddlerhood is a time of change. So many things are happening in your child’s growth and development between the ages of one and three years old. When it comes to drinking beverages, now is the time that children really start to depend on foods and beverages beyond breast milk and/or formula for the nutrients they need. 

We asked Dr. Mark Corkins, a pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to answer a few common questions parents ask about introducing cow’s milk to their toddlers’ diets.

What type of milk should my toddler be drinking?

Toddlers should drink whole milk.

Why should toddlers drink whole milk?

Though growth slows after one year of age, it doesn’t stop. Toddlers are actively growing, especially their brain -- and fats are part of the brain structures. Whole milk provides fat, which is needed for healthy growth and development, plus calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D.

Can parents give their toddlers low-fat milk instead of whole milk?

Whole milk is the beverage of choice, unless your pediatrician recommends using a lower fat milk for a specific reason. Cholesterol and fats are needed for normal growth and development of your child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these should not be restricted during this time. In fact, half of your child’s calories should come from fat.

If my toddler won’t drink milk, can I give her yogurt instead?

Yogurt provides many of same nutrients as milk, including calcium, phosphorus, protein and riboflavin, and is a good part of an overall plan to help meet the nutrient needs of children, but it should not replace milk.

If your child won’t drink milk, you might try a few of these strategies, while keeping within recommended caloric intakes:

  • Mix yogurt, fruit and milk together to make a smoothie
  • Serve milk in a fun cup or with a special straw
  • Add an ice cube or two to the milk to keep it chilled while he/she drinks it
  • Warm the milk gently and serve it in a special cup (be careful to not overheat and check the temperature to avoid burns)

Remember children may need to try new foods multiple times to learn to enjoy them.

Does milk decrease absorption of iron for toddlers?

Milk does not affect the absorption of iron, but feeding a young child more than 32 ounces of milk per day may mean that he/she may not get enough iron-rich foods, which could lead to iron deficiency anemia.

It is important that a variety of foods be offered from all five food groups – fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy – each day. Although milk is not a good source of iron, it should be included as part of a “balanced diet.”

If you want more information about feeding your toddler, you can go to HealthyChildren.org to seek science-based resources that can help you feed your growing child. And check out our Airplane Choo-Choo guide to feeding your baby in the first two years.


Here are some suggestions for protein-rich meals that kids will enjoy.