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How Much Milk Should a Toddler Drink?

By Dinah Torres Castro

Parents of young children are often confused by the sudden changes in their child’s eating habits after the first birthday. This period of development, called toddlerhood, is a time when a child no longer relies solely on formula or breast milk to get the most nutrition. By this stage, most one year olds eat a variety of solid foods, and parents notice changes in appetite that coincide with this natural development. For the most part, healthy infants getting adequate nutrition will likely triple their birth weight by the time they are a year old. Parents need to know that it takes a lot of calories to get to that point, and very often infants do have wonderful appetites. Then, toddlerhood arrives and suddenly their toddler doesn’t eat as much (decreasing the quantity they eat) and gets fussy about food (lessening the variety of foods they eat). I frequently hear parents tell me that as a nine month old their child was eating beets, spinach, and broccoli, and now (a few months later) they are lucky to get their child to eat carrots! It is important to realize that at this stage of toddlerhood, growth rates are slowing down, and children do not need the larger quantities of food they were previously eating. They still need a variety of foods to provide all the nutrients for growth, and as parents we still need to make the effort to provide new eating experiences even if they don’t seem to be interested. The key to curing the picky eaters is to provide a variety of food, and not limit foods to only the ones they will accept.

Once a child becomes a year old, the switch from formula or breast milk to most commonly cow’s milk can bring on different issues. Some parents are worried that their child no longer wants to drink milk, while others find their toddlers only want to drink milk and have no appetite for other foods. Think about it this way: milk is nearly a perfect food—it contains protein, sugar, fat and water. The toddler who is drinking too much milk is getting plenty of nutrition from milk, however not the variety of foods to provide all the other vitamins and minerals needed. Between 12 months and 18 months most children drink 24-30 ounces of milk, and should gradually decrease to drinking 16 ounces by their second birthday. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommends a daily intake of 2 cups (16 ounces) of milk for two year olds. If your 2 year old child drinks 18-20 ounces a day but has a good appetite and eats a variety of foods, these extra few ounces are usually okay. The problem with going over the 16 ounce recommendation is that the child tends to fill up on calories from milk and then don’t look for other foods to fill up on. You need to be aware of how much milk your toddler drinks because it is at this time (between ages one and two) that toddlers learn to eat and establish the foundation for their future eating skills.

Now that you are aware of the recommended amounts of milk for toddlers, if your child is not meeting these goals, here are some suggestions. In general, one cup of milk or yogurt is equal to 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese (American cheese) and can be considered a serving from the Dairy group (see link below). If your toddler avoids milk, enough calcium (a mineral found in milk that is needed for building bones and teeth, and maintaining bone mass) can be gotten from foods such as green leafy vegetables, cooked fish with edible bones, tofu, and foods fortified with calcium such as juices, cereals, and soy or rice beverages.

My Plate: Dairy Group University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension:


Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at


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