Q&A: introducing milk to toddler

K had an addendum to her sleeping question:

"milk, when and how to introduce it?

background: the lovely lady is 13 months and her cousin has had terrible problems with milk allergies. apart from him there are no known milk allergy cases in the family.

my options are:
stage two powder milk
goats milk formula powder
fresh goats milk
soy
rice milk
real normal milk [full fat]
watered down full fat yoghurt

what did you do?"

What did I do? I was still nursing El Chico at 13 months, so I didn't really worry much about it. He was already drinking water and "bubble water" (plain seltzer/club soda) as a treat* from a straw cup by then. We have no history of allergies, and he was fine with other dairy products, so I just tried some whole cow's milk in a straw cup one day and he liked it. I gave it to him whenever he asked for it if he was eating his normal meals. After a few months I stopped buying whole milk and gave him the 1% my husband drinks, because the logic of recommending whole fat dairy to toddlers isn't that they necessarily need the dairy fat but just so nutty people don't restrict fat in a toddler's diet. El Chico ate avocados and other fatty foods (nuts, etc.) 'til the cows came home, so I wasn't worried about his getting fat in the milk he drank. He's almost 4, and he still mostly drinks water and milk (and apple juice at school).

Here's the thing, though: There are plenty of cultures in which toddlers don't drink milk, and they grow up perfectly healthy. So if you don't drink cow's milk or don't want your child to, it won't be a big deal. And if your kid doesn't like cow's milk, nothing bad will happen. My brother and I both despised cow's milk as kids. I eat plenty of other dairy products (cheese and ice cream, mostly), but my brother still can't stand dairy (he even orders pizza with no cheese). And we're both tall (5' 8" and 6' 0", respectively) with no health problems and good bones and teeth**. My mom made sure we ate a variety of foods (she was a co-op hippy kind of mom) and we took vitamins, so I'm guessing we were healthier than kids who drank a ton of milk but didn't eat much else.

Anyway, all of that is just to say that I don't think people should be stressing that much about introducing milk to their kids. Try cow's milk in a sippy or straw cup, and if your kid doesn't like it, pick something else to try. Some kids like goat's milk, but it's way expensive and tastes too gamey to me, so I'd try fortified soy "milk" (it's bean juice, people) or rice milk (a.k.a. horchata) instead. But that's just me and my tastes. Some people want their kids to drink a variety of different milk-like liquids, and that's great, too.

If your toddler is still nursing or eating a variety of foods you don't really need formula of any kind, but if it makes you feel better to give formula, then go ahead. I wouldn't bother to heat it up at all, because then you'll have to keep heating it every time you give it to her.

So I don't know. What do you and your partner drink at home? (Other than wine and espresso, I mean.) Try giving her a little to see if she likes it. If she does, you're set. If she doesn't, or you want her to get used to a variety of beverages, keep trying things and seeing what she likes.

*I highly recommend giving your toddler bubble water every once in awhile if you ever go to restaurants to eat. They think it's really special, but it's only carbonated water, so it's fine for them, but they get to order a special drink like the adults and it helps you delay the soda question. It's one of those ways of giving your toddler the illusion of control without letting them make a bad choice.

**Interestingly enough, my grandmother grew up on a dairy farm and has drunk a pint of milk every day of her life, had 5 kids and nursed them all for at least a year each, and does weight-bearing exercise regularly, but she developed major osteoporosis. She's totally the outlier on the stats of bone strength and lifestyle factors. But she's been getting chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture and taking Fosamax, and her bones are in better shape at 90 than they were at 80.