Is it OK to Give Your Kids Ice Cream?

Parents know that dairy foods are packed with nutrition but are there any benefits to dairy treats? An expert shares her insights.

Parents today are faced with all sorts of messages about the “right” thing to feed their kids. We want to make sure they have the best nutrition, but as every parent knows, many kids resist eating certain foods. That bears the question: Is it OK to offer dairy treats like ice cream or even full-fat chocolate milk?

“Yes, you can give your kids full-fat milk, ice cream and chocolate milk. It’s better that they get the nutritional value of dairy this way rather than not at all,” says Lauren Klein, MS RDN and Nutrition Outreach Specialist for The United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

The benefits of dairy for kids

Kids and their growing bodies need foods with nutritional density to help them grow and develop. Dairy packs a real punch, providing calcium, protein, Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin D.

Milk has 13 essential nutrients that your body doesn’t create naturally. You have to get them from food,” says Klein. “Just one cup of milk equals the same amount of calcium as 10 cups of spinach.” Milk is one of the best dairy products for kids due to the fact that small servings provide solid nutrition.

Klein points out that calcium is especially important for girls as they grow. “Since the rate of osteoporosis is higher in females, it’s important to boost girls’ calcium intake from a young age. Bone density plateaus in early adulthood so I view good nutrition for kids as a ‘bone bank.’ Investing in good nutrition now will pay off with stronger bones in the future.”

Choosing the right dairy products

Chocolate cherry smoothie dairy treat
Photo courtesy of Milk Means More

While sweet dairy treats still offer nutritional value, Klein says that it’s important to offer other types of dairy, too. Just make sure it’s something your child likes. “There’s no use in pushing foods on kids that they hate,” Klein says. She suggests setting out a couple of choices at snack or meal times so that kids can explore different options.

While all dairy products offer essential nutrients, some are more nutrient-rich than others. One thing to offer kids is Greek yogurt, says Klein. “Yogurt has a high protein content, plus it comes in so many forms and flavors. Kids should be able to find something they like.”

Protein helps kids to feel full while providing energy, so it’s a great snack when you’re on the go. Try freezing cups or tubes of yogurt for a special treat, Klein says. “Kids love this year-round but especially in summer. Sometimes serving your child food in a different way will make them more interested in trying it.”

Small cheese bites or mozzarella sticks are also great choices since they are nutrient-packed and portable.

It’s also vital to consider portion size, recommended daily servings and your child’s age when serving dairy treats. “You can include frozen yogurt or chocolate milk as one of your child’s daily servings. It’s a great way to round out their nutrition.”

Easy ways to make nutritious dairy treats part of your child’s diet

Dairy treat yogurt bark is healthy for kids
Photo courtesy of Milk Means More

As parents, we like to give kids treats from time to time – and that’s OK, says Klein. In fact, modeling healthy attitudes towards treats is crucial to helping kids develop healthy attitudes towards food in general.

“You don’t want to act like ice cream or some other treat is a super-special thing that you have to ‘make up for’ if you eat it, or that it should only be served on special occasions. Kids will attach too much importance to it,” she says.

Klein says it’s good for kids to see their parents enjoy treats in moderation, showing kids that ice cream or chocolate milk can be part of a healthy diet.

There are lots of ways you can incorporate healthy items into sweet dairy treats for kids. Klein suggests involving them in the process. “Take kids strawberry picking in the summer and add the strawberries to a smoothie. Give them a choice of fruit toppings for yogurt or ice cream. Have them help you make yogurt pops or yogurt bark.” The latter is simply spreading yogurt and mix-ins like fruit into a tray and freezing. It is just one of many kid-friendly recipes available on the United Dairy Industry of Michigan website.

The bottom line is to offer dairy in a way that works – and that means getting kids to actually eat it, Klein says. “You can make dairy foods appealing to kids by making them fun and finding new ways to enjoy them. Dairy treats are a great way to get a child’s recommended daily servings of this important nutrient.”

Get more info plus kid-friendly recipes at Milk Means More.

Jenny Kales
Jenny Kales
Content editor Jenny Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years. A natural storyteller, she loves helping Metro Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences.

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