Milk Allergies & Alternates

Does your child have a milk allergy? Do not panic. There are many alternatives to cow’s milk that will meet your children’s nutritional needs.

A milk allergy is the most common allergy in kids and affecting 6-8% of children under the age of 4. Some children can grow out of their allergy while others will remain allergic to milk throughout their lifetime. Note, a milk allergy and lactose intolerance are two completely different conditions.

If your child has been diagnosed with a milk allergy, it is best to keep an epinephrine pen handy at all times.

In milk allergies, children’s immune system fights the proteins in the milk causing adverse reactions.

Some symptoms include:

  • wheezing
  • trouble breathing
  • coughing
  • hoarseness
  • throat tightness
  • stomachache
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • hives

*Not all children with milk allergies will react the same.

The only treatment for milk allergy is to avoid milk and all food products that contain milk or a milk derivative as an ingredient. For children under 3 years of age, a complete formula may be the best alternative because the products below are low in fat, protein, and calories, and are intended for use by adults.

Read food labels to determine if a food contains milk. Milk may be found in unexpected places, such as processed meats, canned tuna, and baked goods! It’s important to read labels on all foods, even ones that are not dairy foods.

Words like casein, whey, and lacto- mean that the product contains milk.

Even if a food is labeled “milk-free” or “nondairy,” it may still contain allergy-causing milk proteins – watch out! Manufacturers of foods sold in the United States must state in understandable language whether foods contain milk. The label should list “milk” in the ingredient list or say “contains milk” after the list.

Some food manufacturers voluntarily print advisory statements on food labels if there is a risk that a “safe” food came into cross-contact with a food allergen, such as milk. Look for advisory labeling such as “may contain milk” or “produced in a facility that also produces products containing milk.”
However, advisory labeling is not required by law. The absence of an advisory statement does not necessarily mean there is no risk of cross-contact with milk.

Milk from other animals (i.e. sheep, goat, buffalo) is not a good alternative for those with cow milk allergy since the proteins are similar and make create the same allergic reaction. Sometimes, people with an allergy to cow’s milk are also allergic to soy milk. However, soy milk’s nutrition profile is the closest to cow’s milk. Below are some milk alternatives for your child to try!

Milk Alternatives Nutrition Facts

Type of Milk Serving Calories Fat


Protein (g) Total Carbohydrate (g) Sugar


Almond 1 cup 45 – 60 2.5 1 3 – 7 0 – 7
Oat 1 cup 130 2.5 4 24 19
Hemp 1 cup 110 – 130 3 – 7 4 – 5 7 – 20 6 – 15
Soy 1 cup 131 4.3 7.9 15.3 9.7
Rice 1 cup 105 – 120 0 – 3 1 20 – 24 11 – 13
Coconut 1 cup 50 – 80 2.5 – 5 0 – 7 4 – 7 6
Cow(whole) 1 cup 148 8 8 12 12


The best milk nutritionally is breast milk for newborns up to 12 months old. Once your baby reaches about 6 months, you can start introducing foods if they have met appropriate milestones. Breast milk or infant formula should be given to children under the age of one. Under one year, children’s kidneys cannot tolerate the high amount of protein present in cow’s milk. Once children reach a year, they may be able to tolerate whole milk. At the age of 2, it is time to provide your child with reduced-fat milk (2% fat). Choose enriched or fortified milks to make sure your child is consuming adequate amounts of vitamin D and calcium – important for bone health. Fat is also a very important part of growth and development, so do not opt for skim milk or low-fat milk. Make sure to check the nutrition facts labels before providing it to your child!

Milk provides many nutrients, including protein, calcium, and vitamin D. However, you can still provide your child a healthy eating plan that is nutritionally balanced without milk. Encourage your child to eat a varied diet, including lean meats/poultry, fish, dried beans/ peas, eggs, fruits, vegetables, whole grain and enriched grain products, healthy oils, and alternative “milk” beverages or formulas. This will ensure your child is receiving enough protein along with vitamins and minerals for proper growth and development.


  • When substituting for milk in a recipe, use equal amounts of water or an alternative “milk” beverage, such as rice, soy, oat, hemp, or almond milk (if your child is allowed these “milks”).
  • Read product labels each time you purchase an item, even if you have purchased the item before. Ingredients may change at any time without notification. Note that different sizes and versions of the same product may contain different ingredients.
  • When eating in restaurants, use “chef cards” (available from the FAAN Web site: These cards list all the ingredients your child needs to avoid. Speak directly to the manager along with your server and inform him or her that your child has a food allergy. Present your chef card, and discuss which ingredients to avoid as well as how to avoid cross-contact. For example, your child’s hamburger should not be grilled on the same equipment used to cook a cheeseburger due to possible cross-contact.
  • Pack your own safe meals and snacks for the day and include extra food in case there are delays so you do not need to rely on restaurant foods. This practice also benefits the whole family by consuming healthier food options!


About Sydney Spoon

I am currently a UNLV graduate student working towards my master’s degree in Kinesiology & Exercise Physiology. I also teach nutrition classes at UNLV and am a Clinical Dietitian for St. Rose Hospitals. If you see me in something other than work out clothes… just assume I am not in the best of moods.

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