The baby food aisle is ripe for causing confusion and “toddler formula” is one product that deserves some explanation. We’ll talk through what it is, why it’s different from infant formula, all about toddler milks, and what the heck your child should really be drinking. (Hint: It’s actually pretty straight forward!)
Powder labeled “toddler formula” seems like the next step in infant feeding and is marketed towards babies 9-36 months old. They are generally not recommended by medical experts and the product labels can be confusing. You may also find these formulas called “transitional formula” or “toddler milk”, the latter being marketed towards kids 12-36 months.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that once a child reaches 1 year of age, they transition to cow’s milk, assuming they’re eating a mix of other solid foods.
TIP: If your toddler has a medical issue or there’s a concern about growth, consult your pediatrician about whether or not a toddler formula may be necessary because it might be very helpful.
Toddler Vs. Infant Formula
Formulas labeled for toddlers contain a slightly different mix of ingredients and nutrients than infant formula and are usually designed for babies 9 months old and up. They are not regulated by the FDA the same way as infant formulas are though, so they may contain more sugar, fat, and sodium than you may expect. And the claims and labels may confuse us into thinking that our kids actually need them—especially if they are picky eaters.
TIP: Almost all toddlers are picky at some point and milk or formula shouldn’t be used as a supplement or safety net. Read more on Normal Picky Eating here.
Organic Formula for Toddlers
And formula labeled “organic” is simply made with organic ingredients. It’s otherwise similar to regular toddler formula and may not be necessary if your child eats a well-rounded diet most days.
What’s “Toddler Milk”?
Marketed towards kids 12-36 months old, toddler milk is typically billed as a safety net for picky eating. They are not recommended by medical experts and some public health experts worry that the labels are confusing and misleading. They’re also more expensive than regular whole milk.
TIP: Unless your pediatrician advises otherwise, you can save your dollars and skip this product.
Best Milk for Toddlers
Once a child is over 1 year of age, their digestive system can handle cow’s milk. (Before they turn one, they cannot tolerate it so it’s best to stick with breastmilk or infant formula!). Whole milk cow’s milk has all of the fat that your child needs for proper brain development, but it’s possible to go with an alternative milk for preference, lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy…you just have to be sure to pick the right one.
TIP: Read more on the Best Milks for Toddlers.
How do I know if my toddler is ready to wean from formula?
When a toddler turns one, you can start the process of weaning from infant formula to regular milk. You can start gradually, doing half milk and half formula in bottles to make sure they tolerate it okay and adjust to the taste difference. Since most kids at this age are eating a wide range of foods, they don’t need the safety net of formula.
TIP: Read more on How to Wean a Toddler.