Milk alternative for vegan children

Milk alternative for vegan children

In India, our culture and dairy are very closely connected. Dairy plays a significant part in numerous aspects of our society, including cuisine, religion, culture, and the economy. So many of our rituals and festivals have milk or milk based foods entwined with them. Many adults want to turn vegan due to health, environmental or ethical reasons as do parents who want to choose a gentler diet for their children but due these above stated reasons. Here are some pointers regarding milk which will give you clarity and help you to make the transition.

The milk we get today is not close to what we got in ancient times. Cows today are injected with hormones and drugs to enhance lactation and those have a harmful effect on children and adults.

Dairy is often badly digested by many people and is found to create inflammation and the hormones can lead to early puberty, acne and obesity. Calcium can also inhibit the absorption of iron, which means drinking too much milk can lead to anaemia.

Our bodies use an enzyme called lactase to break down that sugar so we can absorb it into our bodies. But people with lactose intolerance don’t have enough lactase. Between two thirds to three-fourths of the world's population has lactose intolerance or cannot comfortably digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and 40% of humans stop producing enough lactase to digest milk between the ages of 2 and 5.

Also there is no evidence that drinking milk reduces bone fractures. A 2013 study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that children who live in countries with lower rates of milk consumption have lower fracture rates than those in milk-drinking countries.

A December 2014 study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found that pre-schoolers who drink three or more servings of milk a day are likelier to be taller, but also more obese and overweight. Whole, or full-fat, milk has high levels of saturated fat, which has been tied to health problems.

Although milk is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, there are a lot of other food sources that provide these nutrients.

Let’s look at each nutrient which milk and milk products provide:

Protein: For children a good amount of protein is needed. Lentils, beans, chickpeas, soy and soy products (tofu, tempeh, soy milk), sprouts, peanuts, almonds, broccoli, peas, buckwheat, amaranth, sattu, hemp seeds, quinoa are some sources of protein.

Here is how these look like in terms of grams of protein

¼ cup white beans: 3 grams

1 Tbsp peanut butter: 3.5 grams

1 slice whole wheat toast: 5 grams

1 Tbsp hummus: 1 gram

50 gms tofu: 4 grams

¼ cup cooked quinoa: 6 grams

¼ cup cooked lentils: 8 grams

1-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight for babies or around 11 grams of protein per day for children 7-12 months old.

Children ages 4 to 9 need 19 grams of protein each day. Those between ages 9 and 13 need 34 grams of protein each day.

For adolescents, ages 14 to 18, it varies by gender: Boys need 52 grams and girls need 46 grams.

Overall, children should get enough protein every day for basic needs if they eat 2- 4 servings of protein from wholesome protein sources mentioned above.


Calcium is the essential building block of bones and teeth. The more bone your child builds in the early years, the more reserves he/ she will have when bone loss begins in later years.

Ages 1-3: 700 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily.

Ages 4-8: 1,000 mg daily.

Ages 9-18: 1,300 mg daily.

Several studies suggest that the impacts made on bones when kids exercise or are involved in any other physical activity is the main factor in bone growth. The best way for kids to take good care of bones is to go outdoors and play.

Calcium can be found in many other food sources besides milk, including nuts, beans and greens. Sesame seeds, all greens, broccoli, okra, sweet potatoes, chia seeds, soy milk, almonds, dried figs, tofu, white beans, sunflower seeds, orange juice are some of the sources of calcium.

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient and it is associated with stronger bones, muscle health, strengthened immune systems, and possible disease prevention. It may also help protect against chronic disease later in life.

The body can only absorb the bone-strengthening mineral calcium when there's vitamin D present. According to the resource published in JAMA Pediatrics, kids build bone throughout their childhood and adolescence, so getting enough of both calcium and D is critical during that time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the optimal amount is:

400 International Units (IU) per day of vitamin D for infants under 12 months, and 600 IU per day for older children and adolescents.

These are just maintenance doses. For deficiencies the dosage is much higher.

A blood level of 40-60 ng/ml is the ideal range for vitamin D needed for overall health and to help reduce disease by up to 50 percent or more.

Sunshine and mushrooms can be considered sourced of vitamin D along with fortified foods such as breakfast cereal, orange juice and soymilk/ other plant mylks.

For ex: Fortified soy milk. One cup of soy milk fortified with vitamin D contains about 2.9 mcg (116 IU) of vitamin D

A supplement may be needed in addition, in most cases.

In terms of alternatives from a taste perspective, plant based milk tastes different from dairy milk and it might take 1-2 weeks for your child/ children to find the dairy-free milk options they like. Best not to give kids big glasses of plain plant based milk while they are still getting used to the taste. But rather serve it in smoothies, mylkshakes, porridge, cereals etc. to let them get used to the taste.

As a mother and nutrition coach, I recommend using soy milk and almond milk for toddlers, children and mothers. It is packed with protein and calcium. Homemade ones are always better than store bought ones.

Coconut milk is also a good option as it contains more fats which are good for young children.

So overall I would like to conclude that vegan diets can meet nutrient requirements and can be an appropriate choice for all life stages, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, and childhood, provided that they are well-planned and implemented. In fact, the problems that occur in children and adults who exclude all animal components from their diet are related to the incompleteness of the diet, and lead to nutritional deficiencies.

By Vinita Contractor

Vinita Contractor