Having your child diagnosed as lactose intolerant can be tough. Especially since dairy is such a valuable part of a balanced diet. We get most of our calcium and vitamin D from dairy products — which are essential to bone growth. Milk is also packed with other nutrients such as protein and potassium making it excellent for those young, growing bodies.
The good news for parents is there are several wonderful milk alternatives that leave the lactose and allergens behind while offering essentially the same nutrients contained in milk. It is unlikely you’ll find an option with the same amount of protein as milk, but still try to select varieties that contain around four to nine grams of protein per cup.(1) Also, you want to stay clear of varieties with added sugars in the ingredients such as corn syrup, cane juice, or words ending in “-ose.”
So if you’re looking for a healthy milk substitute for your child that still tastes great, here are 5 milk alternatives:
1. Lactose-Free Milk
Lactose-free milk contains an enzyme to help breakdown the lactose in milk. Aside from that, it’s essentially the same milk your family has always enjoyed. Thus, before considering other milk substitutes, try starting with lactose-free milk. Lactose-free might be your best solution if your child doesn’t have a milk protein allergy. Also, lactose-free milk is virtually indistinguishable from regular cow’s milk and contains the same amount of fat, protein, carbohydrate, and caloric content. This option also matches “regular” milk’s calcium and vitamin D.(2)
2. Soy milk
Since soy milk’s nutritional content closely resembles that of cow milk, this soy-based option has been used as a milk substitute for years. Also, most soy milk brands are fortified with calcium and vitamin D making it a great milk alternative.(3) But be careful when choosing a soy milk brand because not every brand included extra fortification. Double check the ingredient list and make sure there are no added sugars and flavors.
3. Almond Milk
Over the last few years, almond milk has become a really popular milk alternative. As with soy milk, most brands fortify the milk with calcium and vitamin D. The only drawback is almond milk has less protein and saturated fat than cow’s milk.(4) Yet, as long as your child is getting enough protein and saturated fat from other sources, then this can be a great choice. Also, as with soy milk — be sure to check for any added sugars and flavors.
4. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk has many positive attributes making it a true contender for your child’s milk substitute. Coconut milk is rich and creamy, and provides as much saturated fat as whole cow’s milk — which is very important for toddlers. The milk also contains 30 percent of your daily value of vitamin D and 50 percent of your daily value of vitamin B12.(5) The caveat with coconut milk, however, is it falls short of matching cow milk’s calcium and protein per cup. Thus, if you opt for coconut milk for your child, you will have to make up for those nutrients in other ways.
5. Rice Milk
The biggest benefit of rice milk is it is extremely non-allergenic and has a neutral taste. Though parents should understand that rice milk is higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fat than cow’s milk.(6) If your child has a significant amount of dietary allergies, this might be the right choice for you. If not, coconut, soy, and almond milk are recommended over this.
Overall, these alternatives can be used just as you would regular cow’s milk. Your child can drink them straight from a cup, poured over cereal, or added to smoothies. Though, we only recommend soy milk as a substitute when baking.
In addition, to keep your little one free of the unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms that come along with lactose intolerance, make sure everybody in your child’s life, from teacher to babysitter, knows that dairy products can upset his or her stomach. And if your child is younger than two-years-old, make sure to consult with your pediatrician regarding what his or her right option might be — often fortified formula might be best alternative for the very young.