Children grow rapidly, so they have high nutritional needs for growth and development. They need a variety of foods from different sources, including milk.
Milk plays a major role in the growth and development of children. Based on the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines, children (above two years) should take two to three servings of milk and dairy products daily to fulfil their nutritional needs.
There are many different types of milk developed by industry and available in the market today to suit the nutritional needs of almost every child. Some of the more common and popular ones include:
- Whole milk, which is also known as full cream milk, has nothing added nor removed from it. It is processed to kill any harmful organisms for safe consumption. Whole milk is highly recommended for young children, as it contains about 3.5 per cent of milk fat, which is vital for growth and development.
- Low fat milk is milk that contains not more than 1.5g of fat per 100ml of milk, and is not recommended for children. However, children who are overweight, or have other health concerns, may replace whole milk with low fat milk in their diet.
- Skimmed milk, on the other hand, is processed to have most, or all of its fat content removed. Therefore, skimmed milk has reduced levels of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, as well as reduced calorie counts, and is not recommended for children.
- Formulated milk for children/growing up milk usually comes in powdered forms, and are fortified with various nutrients, such as vitamins A, B and E, calcium, zinc, iron, and magnesium. Some are even fortified with essential fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), arachidonic acid (AA), pre-biotic and pro-biotic as well as antioxidants such as lutein.
- Flavoured milk carries the same essential nutrients as plain, white milk, but has added chocolate, strawberry or vanilla flavouring for better taste. As some children do not like the taste of plain milk, flavoured milk can be a good alternative to encourage young children to drink more milk.
- Condensed milk, also known as sweetened condensed milk, has a very high percentage of sugar, around 40% to 45%. The milk is then processed, and diluted to have very low nutrient content. This makes condensed milk unsuitable for growing children.
- Condensed filled milk, is similar to condensed milk - it is high in sugar and low in nutrients. The difference lies in the milk fat; in condensed filled milk, its milk fat is replaced wholly, or partly, with an equivalent amount of vegetable oil/fat, such as palm oil.
Milk is not only rich in calcium, it also contains many other nutrients that are important for young children; it is a good source of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins A, D, B12 and riboflavin (B2), as well as minerals, eg calcium and zinc, all needed for the growth and development of children.
One serving of milk provides approximately 36% of the daily requirements of protein and 46% of calcium (based on the RNI for children aged four to six years old).
Fat in milk is a good source of energy and contains essential fatty acids, which are useful for the growth and development of young children.
Milk is not only packed with nutritional value, it is versatile too. Besides gulping down the creamy goodness as it is, milk can be added into your cooking, favourite beverages, or even as a snack, taking it with biscuits, which can be dipped into milk and eaten.
Not all children love the taste of milk though, and getting your child to drink even a single glass of milk daily can be quite tricky. Here are some tips for incorporating milk as a part of a balanced diet for growing kids:
- Be a role model. Children are much more likely to drink milk when they see you drink it too!
- Try serving milk at temperatures they may prefer - chilled milk, or warm the milk up.
- Flavoured milk contains more or less the same amount of nutrients as plain milk; if your child prefers it, serve flavoured milk. You can also blend milk with fruits, such as bananas, to make your own flavoured milk.
- Add milk to cereals, or prepare foods that contain milk, such as oatmeal, pudding, smoothies, pancakes, waffles, mashed potatoes, or even homemade cream soup.
- Offer dairy products, such as fermented milk drinks, yoghurt and/or cheese, if your child refuses to drink milk.
- If your child constantly suffers from diarrhoea or stomach upset after drinking milk, do check with his paediatrician, in case he suffers from lactose intolerance.
Milk and dairy products provide a variety of essential nutrients that are important for the optimal growth and development of young children. In fact, milk has been said to be an almost complete food, full of natural goodness. Introducing milk at an early age can help establish a lifelong habit of drinking milk.
The sweetness in milk
Lactose, a type of carbohydrate, is made up of a combination of two different types of sugar - glucose and galactose. It is a naturally occurring sugar in milk that gives milk its natural sweetness and provides energy.
Milk and milk products should be among the foods that you choose everyday. It is a nutrient dense food that provides you with a whole lot of benefits - energy, vitamins, minerals and in some case, even probiotics.
A certain amount of sugar is allowed in milk to make this nutrient-rich beverage more acceptable and palatable to children. However, manufacturers need to conform to the Malaysian Food Regulations 1985 and the Regulations on Formulated Milk Powder for children. Compared with consuming sweetened beverages, milk is always the recommended choice for growing children to meet their nutrient needs.