As a dietitian specialising in milk allergy, I get many questions about choosing a milk alternatives for toddlers, especially when turning 12 months old.
Now the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that all toddlers stay on whole milk until at least 2 years of age. In the UK this is a little different and new guidelines advise that from 12 months toddlers can be given whole or semi-skimmed cows milk.
But of course if your baby has a milk allergy you will be looking for an alternative to dairy products. This is especially common if you’re little one is starting with milk reintroduction and not yet tolerating whole cow’s milk.
So what are the 12 best plant based milk alternatives for toddlers after 12 months of age.
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What is plant based milk?
A plant-based milk is one that is not made from animal products and comes from plant sources. They used to be found predominantly in health food stores, but nowadays most grocery stores stock some form of plant-based milk.
I don’t know if you have spotted but majority of the packaging on plant based milk alternatives states that it shouldn’t be given to children under 3 years of age as a drink. So what do you do?
Well first not all plant-based milks are equal!
It is important that when choosing a milk alternatives for toddlers that you know what to look for in the ingredients list. Checking your labels ensures that your baby isn’t missing out on any key nutrients, or kcals. Let’s take a look.
The different types of plant based milk
On the market there are so many different plant based milk alternatives out there. You have soya, oat, coconut, almond, hemp, cashew, pea, rice, a mixture of some of these, and maybe some I have missed! The list has really grown over the last few years.
What to look for in milk alternatives for toddlers
First you need to make sure that it is fortified.
Fortified means that it contains added nutrients that aren’t naturally contained.
There are some important nutrients that I advise to look for on the packaging, these are; Vitamin D, Iodine, Calcium, and Vitamin B12. Some plant based milks will also contain other B Vitamins such as Riboflavin.
Why does my toddler need these specific nutrients?
Calcium is essential for building strong bones and teeth, toddlers need 350mg of calcium per day. A typical 100mls of fortified plant based milk contained 120mg of calcium. Calcium is however not only found in dairy products but in foods such as green leafy vegetables, fortified cereal and tofu.
- Vitamin D
Important to help with calcium absorption, a daily intake of 10mcg of Vitamin D is recommended and keeps toddler’s bones growing strong and their defense systems robust. Although generally found in plant based milks food generally isn’t a great source of Vitamin D so I’d always recommended to give a toddler a multivitamin with 10mcg contained.
At 70-110 mcg daily, iodine is critical for your toddlers brain development and thyroid function. Iodine is found mainly in fish and dairy products. If your little one has a milk allergy then it’s important that you include fish in their diet 1-2 per week. Iodine is a little tricky to find and is only in a few plant based milk alternatives at the minute. Have a look below for which ones.
- Vitamin B12
Vital for brain health and energy, toddlers require 0.9mcg of Vitamin B12 daily to support red blood cell production.
The best milk alternatives for toddlers.
Reading the labels
The milk that you give your baby as a drink after 12 months or to add to their meals needs, to contain enough energy to support their growth.
I always recommend that you choose a plant-based milk that contains per 100mls;
- >1g of protein – recommended intake 13-14g per day.
- 120mg of Calcium
- Added Vitamin B12
- Added Vitamin D.
- >22.5mcg Iodine – this can be a little tricky to find.
This generally makes the plant based milk similar to the nutritional content of whole milk.
If your baby eats animal products, including fish, then iodine and Vitamin B12 may not need to be present in plant-based milk since they can also obtain them through their diet.
Plant based milk – The variety!
When it comes to products out there it all depends on where you are in the world on the brands available and honestly, it can be overwhelming.
12 Best Milk Alternatives for Toddlers
Soya milk is widely available and is made from soya beans with water. It is generally the highest in protein of all the plant-based milks with oat and pea protein milk are joint second.
Although babies don’t need a lot of protein it is important that the milk they drink does contain some protein.
Some babies with CMPA may also have a soya allergy so I always advise you to monitor your baby when giving soya milk as a drink if they haven’t had it before.
Some brands that you may find
Alpro are the leading brand when it comes to soya products and their products are available in the USA and UK. I would always advise to go for an unsweetened product such as their;
1. Alpro Soya Original – RRP – £2 Per litre
This product contains calcium, B12, and Vitamin D but is lacking in iodine which is disappointing.
2. Alpro Growing up soya milk RRP. £2 per litre
Alpro also have a growing up soya milk just for toddlers aged 1-3 years. However, they have annoyed me a little recently as this now contains added sugar and used to contain apple concentrate to sweeten. This however contains iodine unlike it’s counterpart above.
3. Tesco – Growers harvest – RRP. 50p per litre. This is one of the cheapest options out there and contains adequate calcium, kcals, protein, Vitamin D and B12 but is just lacking in iodine. If your little one is having a diet with other sources of iodine (fish) then this can be a go-to option.
Oat milk alternatives
4. Oatly Barista RRP £2.10 per litre.
Oatly Barista is available in USA and UK and is one of the plant-based milk alternatives on the market with the highest kcals. It contains 61kcals per 100mls. It also contains Iodine, Calcium, Vitamin D & B12 but a little less protein than soya milk at 1g per 100mls.
5. Alpro Growing up Oat Milk RRP £2 per litre.
Alpro have also produced a growing-up milk which contains; Iodine, Calcium, Vitamin D & B12. It also doesn’t have any added sugar like the Soya Growing up milk (don’t ask me why). It also has a little pea protein in to add to it’s protein content giving it 1.8g per 100mls.
6. Silk – Oat milk RRP £2.50 per litre.
Silk seems exclusive to the US and does contain Calcium, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D but it is a little low in protein (0.3g per 100mls) and again doesn’t have the iodine. It is a good option to add to meals but I wouldn’t say as a main drink for your toddler.
Coconut plant based alternative
If your little one has an allergy to soya and oat you may be looking for alternatives. Although coconut milk alternatives aren’t always the highest in calories they can provide additional kcals, Vitamin B12, Calcium and iodine to your toddler’s diet.
I am a little biased but one brand stands as the best coconut milk alternative for toddlers, this is…
7. Koko Life RRP £2.20 per litre
This products meets all requirements; calcium Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Iodine plus many more and it doesn’t contain added sugar. I also think it tastes great. It has a little pea protein again to boost the protein content to 1.9g per 100mls.
8. M&S coconut drink RRP – £2 per litre
M&S have upper their game with plant based milk alternatives, alongside their fresh oat milk they now have a fresh coconut drink. This is obviously a little lower in kcals and nearly no protein but does contain Iodine, Calcium, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. With this one I’d advise to add to foods for a bit of variety but not to give as a main drink to your toddler.
Almond & Cashew milk
There is now a range of nut milks out there but as with coconut I generally don’t recommend almond milk as a main drink. You can probably find
9. Almond Breeze RRP £2 per litre.
Almond Breeze seem to be the leading brand on almond milk. Yes their milks are a little low in kcals (24kcals/100mls) as a main drink but could be added to foods. Their original contains Calcium and B12 but no Iodine again.
10. Alpro Almond no Added sugar milk RRP £2 Per litre
Alpro alongside their soya and oat milks have a variety of almond milks. Their no added sugar would be my pick as the other contain ‘added sugar’. Their almond milk is really low in kcals at 13 per 100mls, it also only has 0.4g of protein. But, it is fortified with Calcium, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and Iodine!
11. Alpro Cashew milk RRP £2 per litre
Now there isn’t much variety when it comes to cashew milk that is fortified with anything. I found Alpro again but this isn’t fortified with iodine, shocking I know! It has 23kcals, 0.5g protein and is also fortified with calcium, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. It also contains added sugar so generally I’d only use for cooking. Any other cashew milks out there didn’t have anything added so basically cashew nuts, a little salt and water.
12. Ripple Kids – RRP
Ripple has been an up-and-coming product in the last few years and I’ve only been able to find it in the US so far. Their milks are based around pea protein and they now have a plant based milk for kids, one which is sweetened and one unsweetened. Their kids products have something that all other plant based milks I’ve found out there don’t. They contain choline. Choline is amazing for your toddlers brain development but guess what? It doesn’t contain iodine? Why? I don’t know. Their products have over 2g of protein per 100mls and added Vitamin D, Calcium, Vitamin B12.
Hemp milk is also widely available and is made from hemp seeds and water.
However, hemp milk is again generally low in calories and I also wasn’t able to find any hemp milks that were fortified so I would say this one is a bit of a no-go as an plant based milk alternative for toddlers.
Can my baby have Rice Milk?
I would not advise giving rice milk as a drink or adding it to your baby’s foods, as it is not recommended for children under the age of 5. The reason for this is that rice milk contains arsenic and could have a negative effect on your baby’s health.
What about organic plant-based milk?
I generally don’t recommend organic plant-based milks for toddlers. Why? well they are generally not fortified which means they won’t have added calcium, b12, vitamin d and iodine.
If you are confident that your little one is getting the correct levels of these nutrients from other sources then organic is fine but I would always ask that you check.
Sweetened vs unsweetened plant-based milk.
If you look at the back of the packaging you may find that in the carbohydrate section it says ‘of which sugar’. A lot of plant-based milk have apple juice added to make them taste sweeter. Now as i mentioned above some of the products targeted at young children have added sugar. This is naughty of the manufacturer so I would advise you to make sure you check the labels and make a choice for yourself based on what is out there.
A little caveat here is that as oats are a carbohydrate source and therefore oat milks are naturally going to show as higher in sugar than other plant based milks.
The back of the packaging should always be checked to make sure that sugar isn’t listed in the ingredients. If it is then you might just want to give this on occasion.
How much milk should my baby drink after 12 months?
So when it comes to milk I always ask parents to look at their toddler’s nutritional needs overall. If your little one is having a balanced diet and is having other sources of calcium then they may only need around 2 cups of fortified milk per day.
Table of milk alternatives for toddlers
|Brand & Product||Kcals per 100ml||Protein per 100ml||Added Calcium||Iodine||Vitamin B12||Vitamin D||Added Sugar|
|Alpro Soya Original||42||3.0g||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Alpro Growing Up Soya Milk||64||1.9g||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Tesco Growers Harvest Soya||35||3.3g||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Alpro Growing Up Oat Milk||60||1.8g||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Koko Life Coconut||53||0.7g||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|M&S Coconut Drink||29||<0.5g||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Alpro Almond No Added Sugar||13||0.4g||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Ripple Kids (US)||50||2.0g||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Depends on product type|
When you’re looking for milk alternatives for toddlers it can be a little tricky when navigating food allergies.
You may want to reduce the amount of breast milk you give or switch from formula milk and feel baffled by what’s out there.
I hope this information will help you to choose. Always look out for a milk that has (per 100mls); more that 40kcals, 120mg of calcium, >1.5g of protein and added Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. As I have shown you it can be tricky to find a product with added iodine but they are out there.
Remember to only give a plant based milk alternative as a main drink over 1 year of age but you can add it to your baby’s solid foods from 6 months
P.S. Don’t forget you can get a copy of this blog straight to your inbox
Hannah is an Expert Registered Dietitian specialising in Vegan Family Nutrition and Cows Milk Protein Allergy.
She is a respected figure in the field of nutrition and a captivating speaker and sought after media spokesperson being featured in esteemed publications including the Sunday Times, Independent and Huffington Post.
- Registered Dietitian
- First Class Degree in Nutrition
- Over 15 years experience working in the field of nutrition
- Respected Media Spokesperson both in the UK & USA; quoted online, TV and in local and international news
- Writer & Researcher, supporting the BDA and PEN Nutrition