Over the past few years there has been a rise in the number of plant based milks that are available and there are now so many it can be hard to know which to choose. Should you go for soya, oat, pea, hemp, almond, coconut, cashew… and should it be organic, the barista version, sweetened or unsweetened?! It can be a minefield trying to work through them all.
As a dietitian, when deciding on a plant based milk I would always be considering your child’s diet as a whole before making a decision, because energy, fat, protein & the vitamins and minerals all need to be thought about. If your child has cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) or if you’ve decided to cut out dairy from the diet for ethical reasons it is always best to consult a dietitian to ensure your child’s diet is nutritionally complete. However, I have listed below a few things for you to think about…
When can I start using a plant based milk?
Plant based milks can be introduced in foods from the start of weaning at 6 months.
Current recommendation is that children under 2 should not have plant based milks as their main milk source, so if possible you should continue to breast or formula feed until this age as nutritionally this is the best route. However, from a practical point of view, it is also a good idea to get your child used to the taste and texture of different plant based milks so it can be a good idea to give very small amounts to your child to drink to allow them to get used to the taste.
Are there any that I shouldn’t use?
Rice milk is not suitable for children under 5 years due to the arsenic content.
Organic milks do not have any vitamins or minerals added and are therefore nutritionally inadequate so should not be given as you should always use a milk that is fortified with at least calcium.
If you are vegan then the added nutrients are even more important and it is best to choose a milk that is also fortified with iodine. M&S, Asda, KoKo also do milks with added iodine.
Soya milk is the closest nutritionally to cow’s milk and generally has the highest energy and protein content which is important for growing children so unless you have reason not to then this is the variety that I would recommend. However, as around 50% of children with cow’s milk protein allergy are also allergic to soy this isn’t always possible.
The taste of plant based milks vary A LOT so if your child doesn’t like the one you give there are many others to try so do persevere.
Some milks do have added sugar and whilst a low sugar variety is better, if your child’s diet overall is low in sugar it isn’t necessarily something to worry about as it can be better to give it than nothing at all.
If you need assistance with a dairy free diet or any other aspects of your child’s diet then please do let me know!