Milk … Can Kids Get Too Much of a Good Thing?

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We’re running into a new question with our two-and-a-half year old. When it comes to drinking milk, can toddlers get too much of a good thing?

Like most little kids, Daniel loves his milk. He would drink it all day, for every meal and throughout the day, if we would let him. The problem usually starts at dinnertime, when he wants to drink milk instead of eating his food, particularly if there is something on his plate that he doesn’t like. Milk is a very satiating beverage and it’s easy for him to “fill up” on it. On some nights, he would gladly have milk and nothing else for dinner.

We generally start him off with a small cup (about four ounces) of milk with each of his meals. He downs that immediately, especially if he’s really hungry, and then starts asking for more. I usually tell him that he can’t have more until he eats some of all of his food items, which may or may not follow as a result. All of this just makes me wonder how milk consumption is interfering with his appetite.

How much milk do two-and-a-half year olds really need to drink, for nutrition purposes? Sixteen to twenty-four ounces a day (two to three cups), says the American Academy of Pediatrics, noting that consumption should be “limited” to this amount. (To me, that implies that the docs know what we parents soon discover: Most young children would drink even more than that if they are allowed to.)

If your child is on a breakfast-lunch-dinner eating schedule with little or no snacking in between, that’s a cup or less with each meal. If he’s having milk during the day as part of a snack, then that’s even less to consume at mealtime. So it seems to me that letting them fill up on milk is not a good idea, as it will almost certainly come at the expense of other nutrients that they need. It will definitely come at the expense of having them fully participate in the meal by trying all of the food items.

To date, our strategies for coping with this in Daniel’s situation include 1) telling him there is no more milk when his cup is empty, and switching him over to water; and 2) giving him the milk towards the end of his meal, more as a “dessert.” That seems to work pretty well now, after a few nights of retraining. I’ve also eliminated milk entirely as a between-meal beverage, as drinking it as a snack seemed to squelch his mealtime appetite completely.

But I’m curious as to what other parents think, and how they handle this one. Do you see milk over-consumption as a problem, and if so, how do you limit it in your toddler’s diet?

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2 Responses to “Milk … Can Kids Get Too Much of a Good Thing?”

  1. Antonia Malchik Says:

    I didn’t realize it caused an iron deficiency. My 2 1/2-yr-old drinks plenty of it, and had to go on iron supplements for a couple months. Murder on the teeth. He was also a preemie, though, and was iron deficient at about 9 months. They’re prone to it.

    I have actually not limited my son’s milk consumption, nor measured it, but I’ve found he naturally seems to go through stages. For a few days he will drink a whole bunch, and then back off. It doesn’t seem to interfere at all with whether or not he eats dinner — that’s mostly determined by whether he likes the dinner. Oddly, at breakfast he prefers his granola dry and sips a little milk from a cup, but not much.

    What I have done since he was about 2 is to stop carrying or ordering milk everywhere we go, and constantly offer a bottle of water instead. He always has water bottle hanging around at home, although I will give him the milk if he asks for it. It was going out that really seemed to help him make the switch from milk to water if he was thirsty. He’d ask for milk in the car, and I’d tell him there wasn’t any but he could have water. Eventually he got used to it. Which makes me think a lot of the time they’re just drinking the milk from thirst.

  2. kmwindisch Says:

    Over consumption of milk is a regular problem in my pediatric office. It can and does result in iron deficiency which can be so severe that the child goes into heart failure. The resulting iron deficiency also increases the child’s risk of lead intoxication. To that end every child is checked at 1 and 2 years for anemia which is usually caused by iron deficiency.

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