Is your child drinking enough milk? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey has released as set of guidelines on the type of beverages children from birth to 5 years old should be drinking to get on the right path to nutrition.

RWJF Senior Program Officer Jamie Bussel said habits start at young age.

According to the guidelines, babies ages birth to 6 months old should only be drinking breast milk or infant formula.

From 6 to 12 months, in addition to breast milk and formula, parents can offer a small amount of drinking water once solid foods are introduced.

From 12 to 24 months is the time when parents can add whole milk, which has many essential nutrients along with some plain drinking water for better hydration.

A small amount of fruit juice is OK at that age, too, but Bussel said parents want to make sure it's 100% fruit juice to avoid the added sugars.

Then from 2 to 5 years old, Bussel said milk and water should be the go-to beverages. Skim milk or low-fat milk are best.

If parents choose to serve 100% fruit juice, the guidelines recommend serving either only small amounts of juice or adding water to the juice to dilute it.

Bussel said all sweetened drinks should be avoided between birth and 5 years of age. She added that research found half of 2- to 5-year-olds consume at least one sugary beverage daily. That's a concern because sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugar, which can be a huge contributor to excess calories.

Sweetened drinks can also play a role in the future health issues of children such as dental problems, child obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Bussel said cow's milk is what kids should be drinking with the exception of fortified soy milk, which has been permitted by the USDA as the allowable substitute for cow's milk in the federal feeding programs like the school meals program or the WIC program.

Plant-based milks are not nutritionally equivalent to dairy milk and Bussel said many have added sugars.

Plant-based milks, however, are useful for kids who have allergies or an intolerance to cow's milk. But that should be discussed with a pediatrician, she said.

Bussel said confusing labeling, misleading marketing and advertising are undermining parents' intentions to make the right choices for their kids.

She said the guidelines will not only furnish parents and childcare providers with information but she hopes policymakers will read these guidelines. She hopes USDA is going to incorporate these beverage guidelines into the next dietary guidelines for Americans, which are due out shortly.

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