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When Should Toddlers Switch from Whole Milk to Lowfat Dairy?

By Sally Kuzemchak
June 16, 2015
FoodBaby & KidsFamily



As your child hits the two-year milestone, you’ll see some big changes: Your toddler will be off and running and learning new words every day. An added perk: Your refrigerator shelf will probably be a little less crowded, since a carton of whole milk doesn’t have to be a fixture anymore.

Starting at age two, toddlers can transition from whole milk to lowfat (often labeled one-percent) or even fat free milk. In the first two years of life, fat is critical for brain development. But after this period of brain growth, children no longer require such a large amount of fat in their diets.

According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, everyone ages two and older should shift to lowfat and fat free dairy products such as milk and yogurt.

As those fat requirements changes, one of the main sources of fat—dairy—can change too. According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, everyone ages two and older should shift to lowfat and fat free dairy products such as milk and yogurt. Compared to dairy made with whole milk, lowfat and fat free varieties provide less saturated fat, the kind that may raise cholesterol levels (which increases risk for heart disease later in life). Lowfat and fat free dairy also contains fewer calories, which is important considering the current obesity rates among children. The American Heart Association (AHA) agrees, recommending lowfat and fat free dairy for children two and older. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports these guidelines as well.

Though your child needs less fat after age two, the requirements for bone-building calcium actually increase. To get enough calcium, toddlers ages 2-3 should get two servings of lowfat or fat free dairy per day. Children ages 4-8 need two and half servings.

What counts as a serving?

  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1 cup of calcium-fortified non-dairy milk (such as soy milk)
  • 1.5 ounces of hard cheese such as cheddar or Swiss
  • 2 cups of cottage cheese

You may have heard recently that some people think whole milk is healthier than lowfat. Both are rich sources of calcium and vitamin D, as well as protein, potassium, and magnesium (lowfat milk actually has slightly more calcium than whole). It’s true that whole milk dairy products may be more filling, which could help prevent overeating. But the fact is, there just isn’t enough scientific evidence that more saturated fat is better, which is why leading health organizations (like the AHA and AAP) still recommend choosing lean meats and lowfat and fat free dairy.

It’s also smart to talk to your pediatrician about the kind of dairy that’s best for your kids. Full fat dairy may be right for children who are having trouble gaining weight, for instance. If your kids prefer the taste of whole milk dairy products, try mixing them half and half with lowfat or alternating between the two. Stonyfield YoBaby and YoTot yogurts are made with organic whole milk, while YoKids yogurts and smoothies are made with organic lowfat milk. And rest assured that all of them are made with wholesome ingredients and supply the protein, vitamins, and minerals your child needs as a toddler and beyond.