As a mom and a dietitian one of the first concerns I hear with milk allergy in toddlers is how to get sufficient calcium for bone health. Americans tend to rely heavily on cow’s dairy to meet our calcium needs. For young children, lots of cow’s milk is widely considered the ultimate in nutrients, more from effective marketing by the dairy industry than actual science. This can be particularly distressing for parents of children with dairy allergy or intolerance. Fortunately you don’t need to worry if your toddler cannot (or will not) drink cow’s milk; several studies have failed to find a correlation between bone density and increased dairy intake.  Your child does not need to drink cow’s milk to grow up strong and healthy. What we really need to ask is, how much calcium does your toddler need, and what else might be missing when cow’s milk is eliminated?
How Much Calcium Does my Toddler Need?
The National Institutes of Health recommends 700 mg of calcium per day for children 1-3 years old (increasing to 1000 mg at age 4) . When I looked into the research what I was surprised to learn that we don’t really know how much is the right amount. There hasn’t been a lot of research of toddlers and calcium, and these recommendations have not been updated since the late 1990s. The Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences set an “adequate intake” level in 1997 (code for, we aren’t sure, but this is probably good for most people). 
The Australian government recommends almost half as much calcium for toddlers as the US at 500 mg/day  and the British Dietetic Association only recommends 350 mg per day for kids under 3!  . Clearly more research on this topic is needed. I tell you this so that you know it isn’t an exact science, and not to stress if your child does not perfectly meet the recommendation on a daily basis.
Just do the best you can do! Toddlers do not care that you want them to eat sufficient calcium for bone health, they want to eat what they want to eat! (Believe me I get that!)
Since I’m an American dietitian, let’s be overachievers and shoot for 700 mg for your toddler. How are you going to get that in?
Non-Dairy Food Sources of Calcium
The easiest swap is to find a non-dairy milk, assuming your child can tolerate any of the options. You might need to try a few options before you get one your child will accept. If your toddler is used to breast milk or formula it might take some time before they will accept something different. You can also try mixing formula or breastmilk with the non-dairy milk, gradually decreasing the amount of the one you are phasing out.
But perhaps your child is allergic to soy, all nuts and legumes and or just hates every single dairy alternative you try (toddlers being the picky little darlings that they are). If it’s just a matter of them refusing to drink it, you can try adding it to foods like cereal or smoothies and baking it into other foods.
Other non-dairy food sources include:
Dairy-Free High Calcium Menu for Toddlers:
To be honest, my personal opinion is 700 mg per day is a bit excessive, especially for a younger toddler, but it is possible to hit that amount without eating dairy. If you swapped out the chicken for tofu at dinner this menu would also be vegetarian (and even higher in calcium as tofu is an excellent source, assuming soy works well for your child).
Too much of a good thing: Can I get too much Calcium?
While calcium is important for growth, an excess can be problematic. Too much calcium can cause constipation and can lead to iron deficiency, since calcium can bind to iron in the digestive tract, preventing it from being absorbed. So while making sure your child is getting enough calcium is a good idea, you don’t need to go overboard.
What other nutrients might be lost by not consuming dairy?
Dairy is a good source of protein. As you can see from the table above, only soy milk and those fortified with pea protein have significant amounts of protein in them. Whether this matters for your child depends on how willing they are to eat other protein containing foods. If your child eats beans, meat, fish, tofu or eggs regularly they probably don’t need extra protein in their milk alternative. But if you have a child who hates all of those foods sneaking a little extra protein in the form of soy (if not allergic) or pea protein fortified milk might be advised.
Growing little brains need a good amount of fat.  Ideally it would be DHA, which comes from fatty fish, flaxseed and a few other nuts. Most non-dairy milks are pretty low fat. Make sure your child is getting good sources of fat, like avocados, flax, fish or eggs (assuming those foods are tolerated).
Vitamin D is also fortified in dairy. Supplementation of Vitamin D is a complicated and controversial topic and warrants its own separate post. Most of the non-dairy milks are fortified with similar amounts of vitamin D as cow’s milk. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether additional vitamin D supplementation in appropriate for your child.
What I use for my own dairy allergic toddler
I was so excited to find Flax Milk that was fortified with pea protein because so many milk alternatives have very little protein compared to cow’s milk, and my son loved it. Unfortunately he developed a sensitivity to pea protein. He now drinks unsweetened Almond Milk. Fortunately he is a very enthusiastic about meat, fish and nut butter so I’m not concerned about him getting enough protein or fat.
Homemade milks and calcium supplements for toddlers with milk allergy
You can certainly make your own non-dairy milks; there are plenty of recipes out there for homemade nut or oat milks. If you choose this option just keep in mind homemade milk is not fortified. If your child is not interested in eating any other foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, you may want to speak with your child’s pediatrician or dietitian to see if calcium and vitamin D supplementation is appropriate for your child.
What non-dairy sources of calcium does your toddler like? Comment below! If you found this post helpful, please share it!