Toddlers need at least three servings of dairy foods per day. One serving is equivalent to two thirds cup of yogurt, two thirds cup of milk, one ounce of natural cheese, or one and one third ounces of processed cheese. Dairy foods are an important source of protein and calcium - a vital nutrient for young children because it helps build strong bones. The right stuff for toddlers is similar to the right stuff for everyone. You'll just have to help get it down.
Children should consume 800 milligrams of calcium every day. Milk and yogurt are particularly rich in calcium, and relying on them can help your child meet the daily calcium requirement. Three servings of milk or yogurt add up to two cups per day. A cup of milk contains 300 milligrams of calcium and a cup of yogurt contains 340 milligrams. Ask your doctor whether you should feed your toddler whole or low-fat milk.
Cheese will add to the daily calcium count, but the amount of calcium in a serving of cheese varies from 175 to 300 milligrams, depending on the type. An ounce of American cheese, for example, has 175 milligrams and an ounce of cheddar has 200 milligrams. Many processed cheeses are convenient, but they're loaded with fat, so try not to serve them too often.
In addition to the approximately 600 milligrams of calcium that's found in three servings of dairy foods, your child will get some calcium from other foods in his diet, including dark green leafy vegetables, bread products (which are usually calcium enriched), and even orange juice.
Most children like milk but may reject yogurt because it has a slightly sour taste, says nutritionist Laraine Ludlow, who teaches a course for parents called "Nutrition and Your Child" at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, NY. To help your child cultivate a taste for yogurt, she recommends introducing it early on, at about the same time as milk. Ludlow also suggests dressing up yogurt and other dairy foods in these toddler-friendly ways:
- Mix yogurt with granola and top with fruit for a healthy "sundae."
- Whip up a nutritious shake by mixing a cup of vanilla yogurt and fruit in a blender.
- Make a light cream sauce using yogurt, add some cheese, then toss with pasta.
- Substitute milk for water when baking such foods as pancakes and cupcakes.
- Add flavorings, such as a dash of chocolate syrup, to milk. (Although flavorings contain some sugar, for the child who won't take calcium in any other form, this solution helps you deliver a much-needed nutrient.)