Kids and Milk: the scoop on flavoring and calcium

Got milk? Most refrigerators do, but most kids’ bodies do not once they get past the ripe old age of 2. It’s like an unspoken force in the universe that says to all toddlers at some point “thou shall not drink milk!”  With future bone health at stake, the path to breaking this force within our kids turns out to be one of the most counter intuitive, yet simple methods there is: flavoring the milk.

I battled this force when my own children were toddlers so know first hand how tricky it can be. I recall vividly my oldest daughter’s crinkled face when the force to hate milk took over her previously milk-loving body and my concern when our pediatrician told us to head to the market and buy some Strawberry Quick. We worried about sugar highs and weight gain but our pediatrician reassured us that the amount of sugar wouldn’t cause those sorts of issues. So, we gave it a shot. Our daughter gulped down the pink milk without blinking an eye. No sugar high followed and the scale didn’t budge so much as a fraction of a pound. 12 year’s later,her favorite calcium source is now strawberry yogurt!

Many parents today worry about the added sugar in flavored nonfat milk just as I once did but a recent report by the National Dairy Council puts all those concerns to rest. Not only current studies conclude that the benefits of drinking flavored nonfat milk far outweigh all feared risks (childhood obesity, dental carries, diabetes mellitus or behavioral issues), none of those risks were found to not occur due to kids drinking flavored milk.

Milk is one great source of calcium, and an important one, but yogurt and cheese work just as well to satisfy our daily calcium requirements. These three foods are the back bone of the National Dairy Council’s “Three A Day” campaign for kids ages 1-8 and adults. For kids ages 4-18 the campaign is tweaked slightly to “Score 4” to account for this age group’s greater growth needs.

So, if your kids have the 3-4 servings a day of milk, cheese or yogurt, they are sure to get their recommended amount of calcium a day for growth. Keep in mind that serving sizes for these foods vary by age which takes into account that calcium requirements vary by age. Kids ages 1-3 need 500mg calcium a day total. Kids ages 4-8 need 800mg calcium a day and kids 9-18 require 1300 mg calcium a day.  Here’s a link to a helpful table you can put on your frig with a list of commonly loved foods and their calcium amounts.

Next time you hear Mary Poppins sing “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”, just remember that strategy works just as well for milk – and will only stick to your child’s taste buds and bones!

(Originally posted February 2009; Updated October 2010)

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