Whole milk is a good option for toddlers over age 12 months who aren’t breastfeeding and who aren’t drinking a toddler formula. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these “young children need calories from fat for growth and brain development ... this is especially important in the first 2 years of life.”

Whole milk is a good option for toddlers over age 12 months who aren’t breastfeeding and who aren’t drinking a toddler formula. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these “young children need calories from fat for growth and brain development ... this is especially important in the first 2 years of life.”

The only other real benefit of whole milk over low fat milk is that many people think it tastes better, so for kids who don’t get used to low fat milk and simply refuse to drink it, whole milk may be the only way they will drink any milk at all.

Whole milk might also be better if you have a very picky eater who is not overweight and is simply not getting enough fat and calories from the rest of his diet. You don’t want all of your child’s calories to come from milk though, so talk to your doctor if you feel like you are in this situation.

Although the AAP touts the benefits of whole milk for younger toddlers, they do say that “after age 2, you can switch your toddler to skim or low-fat milk, like the rest of the family.”

Is the difference between whole milk and low fat milk really that much of a difference?

A quick comparison of milk nutrition labels (per 8 ounce serving) shows that it really does:

Whole Milk - 150 Calories - 8g Fat 2 percent Milk - 120 Calories - 4.5g Fat 1 percent Milk - 100 Calories - 2.5g Fat Skim Milk - 80 Calories - 0g Fat

A 5-year-old switching from whole milk to 1 percent milk who typically drinks 3 cups of milk a day would save 150 calories a day. Although that doesn’t sound like much, you gain about a pound for every 3,500 calories you consume, those extra 150 calories might cost you an extra pound in body weight every 3 weeks or so.

So what should you do? According to the AAP recommendations, if your toddler isn’t going to continue breastfeeding, you should switch her to whole milk once she is 12 months old. Next, switch to skim or low fat milk at age 2 years. Making the switch at an early age is much easier than doing it when your child is older, when they are more likely to notice and be resistant to switching to low fat milk.  An early switch to low fat milk also helps to ensure healthy habits for the rest of your child’s life.

Susan Mills-Gray is a nutrition/heath education specialist with MU Extension.