The benefits of dairy for kids
There has in recent times been a backlash against dairy products for children, but unless there is an intolerance or allergic reaction to them, I’m of the opinion there is more benefit in including them than not.
Research has found the diets of children who include dairy are more nutritionally complete than those with a low intake. Milk contains calcium and phosphorus, important not only for developing strong teeth and bones, but for the release of hormones and enzymes involved with immune and gut function, and also signalling between the brain and the body.
It also delivers protein in meals and snacks that would otherwise contain very little of this important nutrient. Dietary patterns tend to be protein-heavy in the evening meal, yet deliver very little across the course of the day, as many snacks are predominantly carbohydrate-based.
Protein plays an important role in maintaining blood sugar levels and therefore energy levels, which is important given the busy schedules children have during the school term. Children need dietary energy from quality sources to give their A game in the classroom and out of it, as these formative years impact on future opportunities in years to come.
It’s not uncommon for children to have sports training before school and music or drama practice after school, often without the chance to go home for a substantial meal. In this instance, a milk smoothie loaded with good fats, some fruit and perhaps an egg is an easy mini-meal that can be made in advance and consumed either on the way to school or afternoon training — and a better option than a pre-packaged liquid breakfast.
These mini frittatas are also super-easy to whip up and freeze to use as part of breakfast, with a glass or milk or a smoothie or to include in the lunch box. The benefit of frequent nutrient-dense snacks is that they deliver much-needed calories without taking up a lot of stomach space, especially important for younger children who find it difficult to eat too much food at any one time.
Learn to love full fat milk
Children who are active require additional calories to help them remain healthy and resilient against infection and illness, particularly because they are still growing. This is one of the reasons I advocate full fat milk over the reduced fat varieties.
In fact, the same is true for children who may be carrying excess body fat. Though it might seem counterintuitive to recommend full fat (and therefore higher calorie) milk when a low fat approach is often advocated, there are many health benefits associated with the dairy fat found in milk.
In New Zealand we are fortunate that our milk comes from dairy cattle that are predominantly grass-fed. This means the milk delivers more omega 3 fatty acids (undisputedly protective against inflammation and chronic disease) and there is an increase in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an omega 6 fatty acid that helps boost immune function.
Consuming full fat dairy (milk included), therefore, is associated with lower risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and is protective against future inappropriate weight gain. Further, it is more satisfying than low-fat milk, dampening their appetites for options that aren’t as nutritious. Regardless of the context, the more nutrient-dense foods and beverages children consume, the less room there is junk food.