Toddler drinks have been in the news a lot lately, prompting parents to ask me what I think of them.
Toddler drinks include formulas, milk, and other beverages marketed to children 9-36 months old. They are further divided into transition formulas (9-24-month-olds) and toddler milks (12-36 months old).
A recent study found that toddler drinks are heavily marketed to parents, poorly regulated, and nutritionally inferior to whole cow’s milk and a balanced diet. They are primarily made of powdered milk, corn syrup solids or other added caloric sweeteners, and vegetable oil. They are higher in sodium and lower in protein than cow’s milk. Many carry claims boasting of unfounded nutritional benefits with some even claiming to be “the #1 brand recommended by pediatricians.” Not this pediatrician.
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently offers no specific guidance on toddler drinks. But based on general recommendations for a healthy diet, toddler drinks have no place in the diet of children aged 1 or over. While formula, or preferably breastmilk, is necessary in the first year of life, once the infant gut is ready to handle cow’s milk around the first birthday, formula (including infant and toldder) has no use. Rather, it may be detrimental. The calories from the toddler formula is likely to displace calories from ‘real food’ at the precise time that introduction of these foods is essential to avoid picky eating later. If parents insist that the children eat, even though they are not hungry after filling up on toddler formula, then the child learns at a very young age to ignore feelings of hunger and fullness, setting off a cycle that may well lead to excess weight gain. Toddler formulas are marketed as a remedy for picky eating – a perfect example of short-term ‘gain’ (vitamins and minerals) for a long-term loss (the kids will stay picky for that much longer and miss out on the many benefits of eating a wide variety of healthful foods of various tastes and textures). If a parent feels it is necessary, a multivitamin is a much better option for this back up nutrition “insurance” while the family works on helping the child eat a wider variety of nutritious foods.
In sum, I discourage parents from giving their kids toddler drinks.