The Health Benefits of Dairy: How Many Serves Does Your Child Need Each Day?
We recently wrote about how important it is for infants, children and adolescents to consume enough calcium in their daily diet. Dairy foods are the richest source of calcium in the Australian diet and unless your child has a food allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk they can be the easiest way to meet their calcium requirements. In addition to calcium, dairy foods contain over 10 other essential nutrients important for health and wellbeing including carbohydrates, protein, vitamin A, B12, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and zinc.
Dairy can be introduced into your child’s diet from around 8 months of age in the form of cheese and yoghurt. Cow’s milk can also be introduced for use in cooking or on cereal but it should not be offered as their main drink until they reach 12 months of age. For children under 2 remember to always choose full fat dairy products as they need the extra energy and nutrients they provide.
The newly updated Dietary Guidelines for Children & Adolescents in Australia (2013) encourages children and adolescents to:
- “Include milks, yoghurts, cheese and/or alternatives”
So how much you ask? 1 serve, 2 serves, 3 serves??
- For toddlers aged 1-3 years, 1.5 serves* of dairy per day will meet the RDI of 500 mg for calcium.
- For children aged 4-8 years, 2 serves* of dairy per day will meet the RDI of 700mg for calcium.
*1 serve = 1 cup (250 ml) of milk or a tub (200g) of yoghurt or 2 slices (40 g) of cheese.
It is important to note that most children don’t eat exactly the same each day. And portion sizes won’t necessarily be the same size as a ‘serve’. However, it is important that on average the total of their portion sizes should end up being similar to the number of serves they need daily.
And for those little milk-lovers general guidelines suggest limiting the amount the amount of milk they drink to a maximum of 600-720ml per day especially if they are a fussy eater. This will help to encourage your child to have an appetite for solid food and ensure they eat enough food from all the food groups.
Dairy foods as a whole offer many benefits for long term health and well being. Including dairy in your child’s diet and meeting the recommended serves each day will help encourage them to make this healthy eating behaviour lifelong. Meeting the recommended serves of dairy foods daily can have the following health benefits:
- Achieve maximum peak bone mass in adolescence and minimise bone loss.
- Reduce the risk of bone fractures and prevent osteoporosis.
- Higher consumption of a range of essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium and iodine.
- Protects teeth from tooth decay.
- Protection against the development of asthma symptoms in children and adults.
- Assists in maintaining a healthy weight preventing childhood obesity.
- Reduced risk of some chronic diseases in later life, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Here are our top tips to help increase dairy consumption in your child’s diet:
- Eat breakfast daily and include 1 serve of yoghurt or milk at breakfast.
- Add grated cheese to vegetables or pasta meals.
- Serve cheese as a snack either on its own, with crackers or with cut up fresh fruit.
- Try fruit smoothies, babycinos or flavoured milk if your child doesn’t like plain milk.
- Offer yoghurt as a snack or an alternative to ice cream.
- Spread ricotta or cottage cheese on sandwiches, toast or crackers.
Need some recipe ideas?
Does your child have an allergy to cow’s milk?
Never fear. Around 80% of infants will outgrow their cow’s milk allergy by the age of 3*. In the meantime it is important they still get enough calcium by consuming non-dairy calcium containing foods.
What about lactose intolerance?
Well most children who are lactose intolerant can usually tolerate small amounts of cow’s milk and can still enjoy yoghurt and hard cheese as they are often better tolerated due to smaller amounts of lactose and it can often be easier to digest compared with cow’s milk. If you do suspect your child has an allergy to cow’s milk or is lactose intolerant do not try to treat it yourself please seek the advice of a health care professional.