Milk is an important food for all ages. Research has shown that milk provides three of the five nutrients that fall short in children’s diets – calcium, potassium, and magnesium.  And four of the seven nutrients that consistently come up short in an adults’ diet – vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Nutritionally speaking, cow’s milk supplies the best source of calcium for building strong bones and teeth. All varieties can be found with Vitamin D added, which is essential for absorbing calcium.

Introducing Milk

All of the major health organizations agree that breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies for at least the first 6 months. And, if both the mother and baby are willing, nursing should continue — even after introducing solid foods — until the first birthday (and even beyond). If breastfeeding does take place or does not continue after 6 months, an iron-fortified infant formula is recommended until the baby’s first birthday.  After a baby is one year of age, cow’s milk can be introduced.

Milk Varieties


Whole, 2 percent, 1 percent and skim, or fat free milks, all contain 300 mg of bone building calcium per serving. With so many options available, deciding which type of milk is best for you and your family might take a little research. The difference between these varieties of cow’s milk is the amount of fat, carbohydrates, sugars and proteins per serving.  Taste preference, age and activity level all play a role in deciding what type of milk to buy for your family.

Whole Milk – Whole milk contains the highest percentage of fat per serving at about 3.5 percent per 8 ounce serving.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children one to two years old drink whole milk because small children’s bodies need energy for growth and play. If there is a family history of obesity, high blood pressure, or heart disease, your pediatrician may recommend 2% milk (reduced fat) instead.

2% Milk or Reduced Fat – Just as the name implies, two percent milk contains two percent of milk fat per serving. Keeping in mind that milk fat is saturated fat, the lower percentage numbers are the healthier options. High amounts of saturated fat in the diet have been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Two percent milk will have a creamier taste than 1% and skim.  If you are trying to get your family used to the taste of lower fat milk, switching to 2% will help during the transition.

1%, Low-Fat, and Skim Milk – Low fat milk and 1% milk both contain 1% of milk fat per serving. Skim milk contains less than .2 percent milk fat and may also say fat free milk or non-fat milk on the label. These varieties of milk might taste less creamy than whole and 2% milk, but they will contain less of saturated fat and the same amount of calcium, protein, vitamin D, potassium plus other good vitamins and minerals.  These types of milk are the healthiest choices for children over age two through adulthood.

*A note about chocolate and flavored milk

Many parents will offer flavored milk (i.e. chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, etc.) because their children do not like the taste of regular milk. Although this may be effective in helping you get the recommended daily allowance of calcium and other important nutrients into your kids, 8-ounces of chocolate milk can contain up to 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of sugar which contributes to tooth decay and other health problems.  If you feel this extra sugar is not necessary, encourage your child to drink non-flavored milk.


Carton Label Details

Pasteurized Milk versus Raw Milk – The process of pasteurizing milk kills the harmful bacteria that could cause illness or death. There are a small percentage of supporters who believe raw milk contains more beneficial bacteria and enzymes, however research does not indicate an increased nutritional benefit. The USDA and the Centers for Disease Control recommend consuming pasteurized milk.

Organic Milk – Organic milk has the same nutritional value as non-organic milk. Farmers who raise milk cows must use organic fertilizers and pesticides on their fields. Cows must have access to the outdoors on a year round basis and be able to graze at least 4 months out of the year. Antibiotics and supplemental growth hormones may not be used on cows that are raised for organic milk production.

Hormone-Free Milk – Cow’s that are given growth hormones will produce more milk. The FDA states that milk that comes from cows that have been given growth hormones does not affect the hormone content of the milk, nor does it cause harm to the animals. All milk will contain some level of hormones due to the natural lactation process. It is good to note that all organic milk is hormone-free but not all hormone-free milk is organic.

How much milk should we drink?

Daily Dairy Recommendation
1-2 years old 2-3 cups
2-3 years old 2 cups
4-8 years old 2 ½ cups
9+ years old 3 cups

How Much Calcium?

Proper amounts of calcium throughout a lifetime help to reduce the risks of osteoporosis and other weak bone issues as we age. Starting around age nine, kids bodies need about twice the amount of calcium as they did when they were younger. Throughout adulthood, calcium intake should be between 1,000 mg and 1,200 mg per day.


  • Children age 1-3 need 500 mg per day, or 1 ½ cups of milk.
  • Children age 4-8 need 800 mg per day, or 2 ½ cups of milk.
  • Children 9 to 18 need 1300 mg per day, or three cups of milk plus two servings of other calcium rich food such as yogurt or cheese.
  • Adults 18 and older need 1000 mg per day, or three cups of milk plus one serving of other calcium rich food.
  • Pregnant or nursing women need 1300 mg per day, or three cups of milk plus two servings of other calcium rich food such as yogurt or cheese.
  • Adults over the age of 50 need 1,200 mg calcium per day, or the equivalent of about four glasses of milk.

Lactose Intolerance and Dairy Allergies

Although you may need to get a little creative to ensure you are serving the recommended daily allowance of calcium to family members with dairy allergies, lactose intolerance or a distaste for milk, there are several options available.  Fortified soy, almond, hemp and rice milks can be found in most grocery stores.

Low-fat/nonfat yogurt, reduced-fat cheese, tofu, broccoli, kale, spinach, almonds, starchy beans, low-fat ice cream, pudding or frozen yogurt and calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice, waffles, and cereals can also supply the body with the recommended amount of calcium. Calcium supplements also provide an alternative way of getting calcium.