Recently a parent asked me this question: “How much cow’s milk to offer toddlers. Do you allow them to regulate/drink as much as they want or just fill the cup up once and then when it's empty that's it? Being only 17 months, he can fill up pretty quick on milk during the meal, but I also don't want to be taking it away. I would prefer to just allow him to self regulate, but not sure what to do once the sippy cup is empty.”
Regulating Cow's Milk for Toddlers
It’s common for little ones to fill their tummies with milk instead of eating foods. To make sure that your child is getting the nutrition that he needs, use what I call the ‘control what's on the menu’ strategy regarding beverages (the same as with foods).
- Choose which meals/snacks you offer milk. In other words – you control what’s on the menu.
- Let him drink as much (i.e. as many glasses) of milk at those times as he wishes.
- At the other meals/snacks offer water.
This way there's no battle over how much milk he drinks. But he won't be able to fill his tummy with milk instead of eating at every meal/snack. Approx 500mL (2 cups) of milk provides calcium and vitamin D that little ones need without crowding out other nutritious foods. Little ones who drink more than 750mL (3 cups) of milk daily increase the risk that they’re not getting the nutrition that they need from eating a variety of foods. But again, it's not your job to referee how many cups he drinks at a meal/snack. Instead, use this as a guideline for how many meals/snacks to offer milk at. Restricting access (i.e. limiting the number of servings at a meal/snack) to a food or drink only increases a child’s desire for it. While restricting access usually comes from good intentions, it actually interferes with learning self-regulation. Another technique that can help make sure toddlers aren’t drinking too much cow’s milk is only offering milk in an open (lidless) cup. Often, toddlers who are drinking too much cow's milk are drinking it from a bottle or sippy cup. An open cup is more difficult for little ones to manage so it slows them down.
Get more nutrition tips for toddlers directly into your email inbox.