Healthy, Non-Milk Sources of Nutrients for Toddlers

a toddler eating

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Calcium, vitamin D, and fats work together to help your toddler benefit from optimal brain growth during the critical post-natal period, meet developmental milestones, and grow healthy bones, muscles, organs, and skin.

Dietary fats help process vitamin D, which is a fat-soluble vitamin. In turn, vitamin D helps the body use calcium. For most kids, getting these important nutrients isn't a huge challenge as they can get them through the milk and dairy products that they get in their diets. It's not so easy for toddlers who do not or cannot drink dairy.

Parents who choose not to feed their families dairy products or who have children with a milk allergy will need to find alternative sources for all the nutrients that milk provides.

It may not be as simple as having your toddler drink milk, but there are plenty of other ways to ensure they get enough calcium, vitamin D, and healthy fats in their diet. Here are a few non-dairy sources of calcium and these other nutrients you can include in your toddler's diet.

Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

Calcium can be found in a wide variety of non-dairy foods. Your toddler needs to consume about 700 milligrams of calcium per day.

Healthy, calcium-rich foods include:

  • Tofu
  • Salmon
  • Green leafy vegetables (like collard greens, turnip greens, kale, and spinach)
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Almond milk or almond butter
  • Papaya
  • Calcium-fortified cereals
  • Calcium-fortified soy milk
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice

Try to incorporate multiple servings of non-dairy calcium-rich foods into your child's diet each day. Check the labels of foods that you already buy and choose those with higher calcium levels.

If your toddler isn't a fan of green, leafy vegetables, you can try putting a little spinach or kale in soup or spaghetti sauce a few minutes before serving. This approach can make these vegetables more palatable—your child might not even notice they're eating a food that they refused the night before.

Vitamin C helps the body absorb calcium, so combining foods rich in vitamin C with those that are rich in calcium can boost your toddler's calcium intake even more.

Non-Dairy Sources of Vitamin D

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that toddlers get 600 IU of vitamin D per day. One glass of milk equals about 100 IU of vitamin D. It would take six cups of milk to get the required amount (which is a lot, even for avid dairy fans).

Drinking too much milk can lead to problems with iron deficiency and obesity, so it's a good idea for your toddler to some of their required vitamin D intake from food and/or supplements—even if they are getting a few servings of milk each day.

Non-dairy foods that are high in vitamin D include:

  • Salmon, tuna, cod, mackerel, catfish, and other fatty fish
  • Shrimp
  • Eggs
  • Soy, rice, or almond milk products that are fortified with vitamin D​
  • Cereals that are fortified with vitamin D

You can also give your toddler about 5 to 30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure per week to help their body make its own vitamin D.

Non-Dairy Sources of Fats

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that toddlers get 30–40% of their daily calories from fat. Fats are necessary for cell growth, energy, and processing fat-soluble vitamins.

When you consider that a toddler's diet should consist of around 1,000 calories per day, it's easy to see how two cups of whole milk (with 144 calories from fat) supply nearly half of that requirement.

When dairy isn't an option, there is a range of healthy fish- and vegetable-based fats to choose from.

Non-dairy foods that can supply healthy fats for your toddler include:

  • Peanut or another nut butter
  • Avocados
  • Salmon
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Olives (serve cut up rather than whole to prevent choking)
  • Ground flaxseeds

A Word From Verywell

When choosing foods to replace dairy in your child's diet, look for the most nutrient-dense varieties you can find. Let your own tastes be your guide, but know that some non-dairy foods are definitely better choices health-wise than others.

Be wary of relying too heavily on high-calorie, low-nutrient sources, particularly when adding fats. Healthy options abound! For example, almond butter is rich in healthy fat and calcium. Salmon is rich in vitamin D, calcium, and healthy fats.

While it may take a bit more purposeful planning, once you know where to look, you'll find plenty of great-tasting, milk-replacement foods to ensure your dairy-free child gets proper nutrition.

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  1. Calcium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Updated October 16, 2019.

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