Today we’re looking at the recommendations about milk for children –it’s a topic that comes up in many of my talks and consultations with parents.

Let’s face it – parents want to make sure their children are eating a healthy diet and learning healthy eating habits. One of the questions we often get asked is whether you should be giving your children full cream or low-fat milk.

Milk and dairy foods are important in children’s diet. They are one of the main sources of fat as well as calcium, protein and other essential nutrients. Now, everybody needs fat in their diet especially young children. Fats in food provide children with :

  • a concentrated source of calories/kilojoules
  • essential fats that our bodies can’t make
  •  one of the building blocks of every cell in the body.

However, the main kind of fat in dairy foods is saturated fat. Saturated fat is the kind of fat that can, over time, lead to high cholesterol levels in the blood which in turn can lead to blocked arteries, stroke and heart attack later in life.

So the question is ‘Should toddlers and preschoolers be on low fat diets to protect them from later heart disease?’

Young children are growing rapidly. Not as rapidly as in their first year but fast enough to need lots of food energy (kilojoules or calories) for growth. Their stomachs are small so they can’t eat big quantities at one sitting. At least, most of them can’t – there’s always an exception to every rule!

So each meal or snack needs to include at least some food that contains fat, so that they can fill up on a smaller quantity of food than if they were having only foods that are low in fat. For example, at morning tea offer fruit (no fat) and crackers spread with margarine, cream cheese or avocado (sources of fat)  After the period of rapid growth, we want children to cut down on saturated fat and eat oods with better fats – mono and poly-unsaturated fats, such as peanut butter, avocado, vegetable oils In answer to the question about low-fat milk: the recommendations of the health authorities are that until 2 years of age, between 2 and 5 years, children drink full cream milk reduced fat milk and low fat milk from five years onwards. Reduced fat milks usually have some fat but less than
full cream eg light white, low fat milks have no fat eg skim, Shape,Tone

In summary:

–  Dairy foods are a significant source of saturated fats in all our diets

– The basis of these recommendations is to reduce the intake of saturated fats in the diet.

–      Saturated fats contribute to increased cholesterol levels and blocked arteries which can increase the risk of heart disease and some cancers in  the long term.

–      There are plenty of foods that contain ‘good’ fats (mono and poly-unsaturated) that are good to include in children’s diets eg peanut butter, avocado, margarine, oils, mayonnaise.