Milk is one of nature’s most perfect foods. Why are so many children not getting their full-day milk supply? Some kids might not like the taste of plain cow’s milk, and their parents worry about providing enough calcium. “Is chocolate milk better than no milk?” you might wonder? Or, “Is my child getting enough dairy from eating only yogurt and cheese?”
Few drinks are as high in healthy nutrients as cow’s milk. Milk contains protein, carbohydrates, and key vitamins and minerals fundamental to growing strong muscles and bones. One 8-ounce glass gives kids a big chunk of their recommended daily allowance of calcium, potassium and protein.
For much of the 20th century, milk had been a staple in children’s diets. At home and at school, milk was a child’s primary beverage. Combined with an overall healthier and nutritious diet over the past 100 years, Americans’ teeth and bones grew stronger and average adult height skyrocketed. I remember the three beverages offered at school in the 1970s: whole milk, skim milk, and water.
So why, according to reports by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Dietetic Association, are kids abstaining from this wholesome beverage? According to the National Dairy Council, Americans are drinking 20 percent less milk than they were just 20 years ago.
A study reported in the Journal of the America Dietetic Association determined that children who are milk avoiders experience more than twice as many broken bones as others—and at the same time are nearly three times as likely to be obese.
What can we, as parents, do to encourage our kids to drink more milk?
Modeling Good Mealtime Habits
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dietary behaviors developed in childhood, such as habitual milk consumption, have been shown to persist into adulthood, sustaining the beneficial impact of dairy nutrition on overall dietary quality and long-term health benefits.
In other words, serving milk daily will help establish patterns and let kids know that milk is the beverage of choice at mealtimes. If you enjoy drinking milk yourself, be the milk-drinking role model. When you drink milk, your kids will want to drink it, too.
Serving milk ice-cold (between 35-40 degrees) makes it more appealing to children. Try serving milk in special glasses or use crazy straws so kids can have fun with their drinks.
Your child doesn’t like plain milk? Turn milk into a delicious, naturally sweetened beverage with extra nutrients!
Flavored milk is currently a lightning-rod issue, and many school districts are prohibiting sales of flavored milk. In fact, Jamie Oliver declared today, June 9, Milk Day of Action, rallying for a comeback of plain, white, nutritious milk! ZisBoomBah supports the food revolutionist in that we don’t promote adding sugar to foods and beverages to make them more palatable for kids. According to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution website, an 8-ounce serving of chocolate or strawberry milk has 4 teaspoons of added sugar on average.
A glass of chocolate milk from time to time is fine, but watch how much total added sugar your kid gets throughout the day. To limit the amount of sugar in flavored milk, avoid the prepared bottles and mix your own with a little less powder or syrup used in the directions. A little flavor can go a long way. And as with everything, moderation is key.
A healthier choice is to turn milk into a delicious, naturally sweetened beverage! Try blending a ripe banana, strawberries or blueberries with milk. You can strain the blueberry skins and seeds if they bother your kid. That way, you skid the added sugar and go natural, while boosting your child’s antioxidant, fiber, vitamin and mineral intake.
With these tips and tricks, your child will soon be enjoying an ice-cold tall one—and receiving the full nutritional benefits of one of nature’s most perfect natural foods.
Lastly, can eating cheese and yogurt substitute drinking milk?
There are plenty of pediatricians out there who say it’s fine if children don’t drink milk and instead eat yogurt and cheese to get enough calcium. And ZisBoomBah’s nutrition expert Lisa Lanzano, MS, RD agrees that kids can absolutely still be healthy without drinking milk, as long as you assure adequate calcium intake from other sources. She does point out though that the calcium in milk and yogurt is better absorbed than the calcium kids get from cheese.
Watch ZisBoomBah’s video tip “Understanding Dairy“, featuring nutrition expert Lisa Lanzano.
Your whole family might enjoy some yogurt with berries and a drizzle of honey or agave nectar for dessert! You could even freeze it in popsicle molds to make a creamy frozen treat with extra protein, calcium, fiber and antioxidants.
Next: What about families who choose not to or can’t have dairy? Becky Milanski has the lowdown on popular cow’s milk alternatives, along with suggestions from our house nutritionist, Lisa Lanzano, MS, RD, for great non-dairy sources of calcium.