The Milky Way

We have all grown up being told how milk will help you grow up big and strong, accompanied by the many nursery rhymes and songs to help us remember – but what are the real benefits of milk for your children? 

milk-2.jpgBabies and toddlers

As all mums will know, children grow very quickly during their first five years of life. They have high energy needs but only small stomachs, so they need nutrient-dense foods for optimal growth and development. 

Health professionals recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. After this, solid foods can be introduced gradually. Pasteurised milk and dairy foods can be introduced as your baby’s first foods alongside breast milk or formula. However, cow’s milk solely as a drink should not be introduced until Baby’s first birthday.  

Toddlers need a lot of their energy to come from fat sources - whole milk and full-fat dairy products provide them with enough energy essential for rapid growth. Children who are eating and growing well can have semi-skimmed milk from the age of two onwards. Skimmed or 1% fat milk are not suitable for children below the age of five.

Three toddler sized portions of dairy alongside other foods will provide enough calcium and iodine for growth and development. Milk also provides protein and phosphorous which are both needed for normal bone development in children. 

milk-4.jpgPrimary school children

School age children can be impressionable so it is important for them to learn about eating the right types of foods and physical activity. Their diets can often be peer influenced but should be growing out of the ‘fussing eating’ phase by now. 

Milk continues to provide essential nutrients for growth and development, and can help protect teeth against dental caries. Children should be offered milk at school to help them meet their nutrient needs. A 189ml carton of semi-skimmed milk can provide:


% of children’s RDI











Recommended dairy portion sizes for this age group are; 1/3 pint or 3/4 glass of semi-skimmed milk, a 150g pot of low-fat yogurt, or a small matchbox-size piece of hard cheese. 


Teenagers are well known for their irregular eating habits, however it is at this stage in their lives that their calcium needs are the highest! Around 80% of the skeleton has formed by the age of 18 years. Bones develop quickly as they grow in length and density, so it is important for teens to consume foods rich in protein, calcium and phosphorus. A good diet in teenage years promotes healthy bones for later in adult life. Unfortunately many teenagers fall short of their recommended intake of nutrients, including calcium.

The recommended daily portion sizes for milk and dairy foods to meet calcium needs for teenage girls include; 1 glass semi-skimmed milk, a 200g pot of plain low-fat yogurt and a matchbox-size piece of hard cheese. Teenage boys need bigger portions (or an extra portion) to meet their daily calcium needs. 

National Diet & Nutrition Survey (2014) revealed that amongst young people aged 11-18 years, milk contributes: 


% of teen’s RDI







Vitamin B12




* this is of particular importance as the latest nutritional data in the UK shows that 14% of this age group does not meet the recommended calcium intake

**15% of this age group do not meet their recommended iodine intake

It is clear to see the nutritional benefits of milk for growth and development throughout the lifespan as it contains nutrients that are essential to people of all ages, and it also has a practical role to play after exercise. Milk is an excellent choice as it contains nutrients which are particularly important for those engaged in all levels of sport and physical activity. Specifically, milk contains carbohydrates which contribute to the recovery of muscles after exercise, electrolytes (sodium and potassium) that are lost through sweat during exercise, as well as high quality protein which can contribute to the growth and maintenance of muscle mass.

The Dairy Council is a non-profit organisation with a remit to provide evidence-based information on how to include milk and dairy products in a healthy, balanced diet. If you would like some further information you can download resources for all life stages via: Or if you would like to request a print copy, please email: