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Juice, milk, and water: how much should my 2-year-old have each day?
Q: How much milk vs. juice vs. water should my 2-year-old have each day (max/min)? I've heard conflicting information that a toddler gets all the nutrients they need out of milk, so if that is what they want to drink, then let them drink as much as they want. But I have also heard that my toddler should have no more than 20 oz. of milk a day; the rest should be juice or water.
A: Jamee, thanks for your question. Many parents have questions about the nutritional value of milk and juice.

Milk and other dairy products (e.g., cheese, yogurt) are an important part of a child’s diet. They contain protein, calcium, and other nutrients that help build strong bones, teeth, muscles, etc. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that 2-year-olds have 4-5 servings of dairy per day. A child-size serving is ½ cup or 4 oz. of milk or yogurt, or ½- ¾ oz of cheese. If your child got all his dairy drinking milk, that would be 16-20 oz. of milk per day.

It’s important to note that after 6 months of age, children do not get all the nutrients they need from milk. Dairy products should be part of a balanced diet which will eventually include grains (e.g., bread, cereal, rice, pasta), fruits and vegetables, and proteins (including meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts). In fact, drinking too much milk (over 24 oz. for an infant or over 20 oz. for a toddler) is unhealthy—children fill up on milk and don’t have room for other nutritious foods, which can lead to anemia and growth problems.

Fruit juice can be a good source of vitamins and minerals. Orange juice is great because it contains vitamin C and you can also get it with added calcium. But give juice with caution, too: juice is loaded with sugar. Children can fill up on juice, leaving less room for food. Children who sip juice throughout the day, especially from a bottle, are at risk for dental caries or cavities. Drinking too much juice can also lead to diarrhea and growth delay. Give your child only all-fruit juice (not “fruit drink”) and no more than 4-6oz./day. If he’s thirsty at other times, give water.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician