Should you switch to low-fat or skim milk for your kids?

You may have received a notice from your child’s daycare that it’s going to be serving a lower-fat milk to your children.

The notice evolves out of a change in United States Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines for Americans. Part of that change recommends that children 2 years of age or older be served skim or 1% milk instead of 2% or whole.

Parents shouldn’t be overly concerned about the change, says Janelle Cornell, a clinical dietitian at Taylorville Memorial Hospital, part of Memorial Health System.

Children start drinking milk when they’re about 1 year old. At that stage of their development, whole and 2% milk provide them with the calorie intake they need. When they turn 2, a lower-fat or fat-free milk would be a better alternative for them.

Cornell says the USDA guidelines are probably driven by a desire to reduce childhood obesity. The calorie count and fat content are higher for whole and 2% milk; skim and 1% provide all of the same nutrients but with less calories and fat.

If a child has been drinking whole milk at a normal rate of consumption, there’s nothing for parents to be alarmed about. In fact, Cornell says, the average child is probably not drinking enough milk as opposed to drinking too much of it.

Instead, many children have too much soda or juice in their diets.

Cornell recommends the following:

  • Offer only milk or water to children 1 to 2 years old. They’ll migrate to juice and soda soon enough.
  • Consistently serve milk at meal times, especially to young children.
  • Make soda and juice something special that’s served once in a while, not at meal times.