What’s the best milk source for your baby after 12 months? Breast milk is still the preferred choices, and whole milk the next option — but many people in China prefer toddler formula. While milk safety in China is a legitimate concern, most pediatricians and nutritionists don’t feel this is the best choice. One way for confused parents to cut through all the hype and misinformation is just to ask their child’s doctor, “what would you use for your own kids?” It’s a great question: what will I give to my own Alex when he turns one year old? Honestly, I still am not sure what we will do, but here are my choices:
- Local organic milk. There’s one popular certified organic brand of milk (and yogurt) which many Beijing expats and local people prefer. I can’t vouch 100% for its safety, of course, but I trust it as much as I trust anything here. Faint praise, I know, but everyone draws the line somewhere.
- Imported UHT milk. These are now widely available all over China and are the top choice for many. I personally don’t like their taste, and I have strong objections over their environmental impact due to the cost of shipping. Otherwise, they can be extremely inexpensive and also last for months on your shelf, so they are quite convenient.
- Fortified soy milk. I vastly prefer soy milk’s taste to cow’s milk, and it’s very easy to make your own soy milk. Pure homemade soy milk doesn’t have as much calcium as cow’s milk, so your toddler would need to drink fortified soy. There are a few imported brands now sold in many parts of China, especially the hypermarkets. Don’t forget about other soy-based products such as tofu, also a good source of calcium.
- Other milks? My local market’s shelves have many types of imported milks made from rice and almonds. Other people seem to like goat’s milk, including formula versions. Perhaps all these are possible alternatives, but I personally don’t have much experience with them and would rather stick with what most pediatricians recommend.
Milk is useful mostly for calcium and fats, but plenty of other healthy foods can offer these, including:
- Yogurt and cheese. I prefer yogurt over milk for anyone at any age, not just because it’s easier to digest for most Asians. Yogurt also has loads of healthy bacteria called probiotics which an increasing number of studies are showing to be beneficial to overall health, including decreasing risks of obesity. It’s quite easy to make your own yogurt. Another excellent non-milk dairy alternative would be slices of cheese, which packs an enormous amount of calcium as well as protein, fat, cholesterol and iron.
- Canned fatty fish. Salmon and sardines are rich in calcium as well as omega 3, which is essential for brain growth. Canned actually is better as you can munch on the bones!
- Leafy greens. Broccoli, kale, and dark leafy greens are a good source of calcium. But bioavailability is key: spinach is rich in calcium but very little gets absorbed, so it’s not a great choice.
- Calcium fortified foods. Many boxed orange juice has added calcium, which could especially help kids who hate milk and love their juice. Many cereals have added calcium.
- Multivitamin. As a last resort, a children’s vitamin can provide the absolute basics of needed vitamins and minerals. It’s a perfectly reasonable option especially if your child is a super picky eater. For example, only 10% of teen girls get enough calcium!
The key of course is balance and variety — a rainbow of colorful choices!
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