How Plant-Based Milks Compare to Cow's Milk for Kids

Nutritionists weigh in on how the milks stack up against one another. Don’t give a toddler or a preschooler more than 2 cups of any kind of milk a day, because it may make him too full to eat what’s on his plate.

1 of 6

Almond

Looker_Studio/Shutterstock

Almond

Made With: Water and ground almonds

Texture: Thinner than whole milk but creamier than skim 

Nutrition (per cup): 25 to 40 calories, 0 to 1g protein, 2g to 4g fat  

Good Picks: Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Unsweetened, and Original So Delicious Dairy Free Unsweetened Almond

Pluses & Minuses: Contains vitamin E and phosphorus, thanks to almonds, but it’s low in protein.

Bottom Line: Substitute it only when there’s another protein source at the meal. If you’re using it in a smoothie, consider adding protein powder.

2 of 6

How to Make Almond Milk

3 of 6

Coconut

Andrea Meling/Shutterstock

Coconut

Made With: Coconut flesh and water

Texture: Creamy and rich

Nutrition (per cup): 45 calories, 0 to 1g protein, 4g to 5g fat

Good Picks:  Coconut Dream Unsweetened Original Enriched, and Silk Unsweetened Coconut Milk  

Pluses & Minuses: Naturally contains small amounts of magnesium and iron, but it packs more than 3 grams of saturated fat per cup, a chunk of the daily limit. 

Bottom Line: It adds a wonderful flavor to smoothies and ice pops, so think of it as a treat instead of a daily substitute. 

4 of 6

Pea Protein

yingko/Shutterstock

Pea Protein

Made With: Concentrated yellow-split-pea protein, sunflower oil, water, and omega-3 fatty acids

Texture: Our kid testers thought it tasted more like cow’s milk than others.

Nutrition (per cup): 70 calories, 8-10g protein, 5g fat 

Good Picks:  Ripple Unsweetened Original, and Bolthouse Farms Unsweetened Plant Protein Milk 

Pluses & Minuses: Supplies as much protein as cow’s milk, and research shows that pea protein is filling. But it’s expensive.

Bottom Line: It’s one of the best milk alternatives and a great pick if you need a nut-free choice for school.  

5 of 6

Rice

CGissemann/Shutterstock

Rice

Made With: Brown rice, water, and sunflower oil

Texture: Thin and watery

Nutrition (per cup): 50 calories, 0 to 1g protein, 1g fat

Good Picks:  Rice Dream Enriched Unsweetened Rice Drink, and Trader Joe’s Organic Enriched Rice Drink

Pluses & Minuses: Is the most easily digestible, but it’s low in protein. Arsenic levels in concentrated sources of rice are also a worry. 

Bottom Line: Opt for it if your child has trouble digesting other types of milk.

6 of 6

Soy

Atiwan Janprom/Shutterstock

Soy

Made With: Soybeans and water

Texture: Can be a little chalky, but many kids get used to it. 

Nutrition (per cup): 80 calories, 7g protein, 4g fat (1g sat. fat)

Good Picks: Silk Organic Unsweetened Soymilk, and Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Organic Soymilk Unsweetened

Pluses & Minuses: Nutritionally, it’s close to low-fat milk. But, like dairy, soy is a common allergen in kids.  

Bottom Line: If your child has allergies, talk to his doctor before using soy. Both brands above use non-GMO soybeans.