How Much Dairy Do I Need?

From 0 to 100, dairy has its role in every year of life. However, recommendations change based on age and it is important to know how to incorporate dairy into each stage of life. Since it can be confusing and difficult to get it straight, we have laid it all out for you here. Whether you’re searching for how dairy should be introduced to a toddler’s diet, the significance of dairy for adolescents, or the importance of dairy for the older adult –  we’ve got you covered!

Infant 0-1 Year:

Although very beneficial at all ages, a newborn’s body isn’t quite ready for dairy. For infants (0-1 year), the recommended source of nutrition is either breastmilk, which is preferred, or fortified infant formula. The nutrient make-up of cow’s milk is too rich for a young baby’s developing digestive system, so for optimal growth and development, it is important to wait until 12 months to introduce an infant to cow’s milk.  However, many pediatricians do recommend introducing whole milk yogurt after 6 months of age. Because it is fermented, the nutrient profile of yogurt is more gentle than milk, and it offers a great source of protein.  Find more about how to feed your newborn HERE.


Once an infant has reached 1-year of age, their young bodies are ready for cow’s milk. Even if you choose to continue breastfeeding past one-year of age, it is still a great opportunity to begin to introduce the child to milk. The recommended amount for those 12-24 months is 1 to 1½ cups of cow’s milk or the equivalent amount of other milk products, such as yogurt or cheese per day. When choosing, whole milk is recommended (unless specified otherwise by your pediatrician) because it contains the nutrients, energy, and fat needed for proper growth of the child and brain development. Check out this guide for more information on how to feed your baby the first two years.

2-3 Years:

By the age of 2, a toddler should get 2 cups of cow’s milk or the equivalent of that from another dairy source each day to provide them with the nutrients their bodies need. If growth and weight gain are appropriate, or if excessive weight gain is apparent, low-fat milk may be considered. However, whole milk is still considered the milk of choice. To learn more about introducing dairy into a toddler’s diet click HERE.

4-8 Years:

Between the ages of 4 and 8, recommendations are for 2 ½ cups of dairy per day. This is an important stage of growth and children’s nutrient needs greatly increase. This article discusses the benefits of milk in a child’s diet and this article addresses why we should encourage children to drink milk.

9-18 Years:

Once a child reaches the age of 9, their dairy needs increase to 3 cups per day. Bone mass development and continued growth are crucial during this stage of life. Dairy is a great way to help adolescents get the Calcium, Vitamin D, and Protein they need for optimal growth and development. Also during these years, we see that kids routinely don’t get enough of these important nutrients, so dairy foods become increasingly important to meet the demands of a growing body.

18+ Years:

At 18 years and over, the recommendation for dairy remains at 3 cups per day. Although now considered an adult, the body is still going through important growth and development. Peak bone mass has not yet been reached, and consuming dairy can help the body reach optimal levels and help ensure a healthy future. Dairy also provides a source of high-quality protein to help maintain lean body mass and keep the body strong. Dairy continues to be important through all stages of life as the body ages, click HERE to find out why.

Although recommendations change throughout the lifespan, dairy continues plays an important role throughout all the stages of life. How you get your daily dose of dairy is up to you, whether it comes from milk, yogurt, cheese, or some other tasty treat, the possibilities are endless! Add dairy in as a snack or incorporate it into your meal. Check out our post about dairy protein to learn about incorporating dairy throughout the day and for some great ideas on how to get more dairy in your diet! You can also visit MyPlate to learn more about dairy as a food group – including what a serving looks like, selection tips, and an overview of how much should be consumed at each age. So stock up that fridge and always keep in mind the importance of dairy, no matter the age!

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