Milk.  It does a body good.

But does it do as much “good” as we think?

Giving our children milk after their first birthday is a nutrition protocol that many parents follow.  And understandably so.   Milk supplies the calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, protein and other important nutrients that our growing children need.   However, there’s some debate on whether our little ones need to drink milk at all, and whether the benefits of dairy outweigh the costs.   For example, we believe milk equates to stronger bones, yet a large BMJ study shows that high milk consumption is associated with increased mortality and hip fractures.  This topic (to drink or not to drink milk) warrants a whole other post – I’ll save that for another day.

The reason I bring this up is that some parents choose not to ‘follow the herd’, and opt not to use cow milk as the primary source of nutrition for their kids.

Our milk of choice for Sienna has been a homemade dairy-free formula (made with hemp milk).  While our daughter has yet to drink cow’s milk per se, she had tried other varieties (both dairy and non-dairy) since weaning from breastmilk.

When we are travelling or short on ‘formula’ ingredients, a quality sheep or goat milk has filled the void.  Last summer I also sourced biodynamic water buffalo milk from a local farmer.   Buffalo milk surfaced while searching for the most nutrient and calorically dense option for our small and slow growing daughter.  Because Sienna drank no more than a cup of milk per day, and she ate even less, that cup needed to be jam packed with goodness.  Buffalo milk contains all the nutrients found in cow milk but in higher proportions, making it was a great beverage to alternate with her hemp formula (which is in her cup 80% of the time).

Why hemp milk vs. cow milk?

  • Sienna suffered from constipation, reflux, and other digestive issues, so I wanted to avoid taxing her system further by limiting potential irritants including dairy and wheat.  Hemp is not a concern here.  Also want to point out that the smaller fat globules in goat and sheep milk make them easier to digest vs. cow milk.
  • Children are more likely to have an allergic reaction or intolerance to cow milk because it contains high amounts of the casein protein alpha S1.  There are trace amounts of this protein in goat and sheep milk, hence a child can be allergic to cow milk while doing fine with goat/sheep.  Hemp seeds do not pose the same allergic threat that tree nuts or dairy do, and to date, there have been no reported reactions to hemp.
  • Calcium, found in all dairy products, competes with iron for absorption.  This is a particular concern for small children like Sienna who eat such limited quantities of iron sources to begin with.  Hemp milk on the other hand, is a moderate source of this essential mineral (plus I add molasses for an iron boost).
  • When examining macronutrient ratios in cow milk, hemp milk is very comparable (second next to soy).   It contains all 10 essential amino acids, making it one of the best sources of protein for vegetarians (and picky eaters).  Hemp is also a great source of fat (essential for our little one’s brain) and with the proper ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids.
  • While the Canadian government does not permit hormones or antibiotics in cattle, I can’t be sure how the cattle are raised.  So unless I know the source, I like to play it safe.  There is also peace of mind for a mom knowing exactly what’s going into her child’s cup or bottle.  With this hemp formula I don’t need to worry about preservatives, carrageenan or other unnecessary additives.

That’s why I chose a homemade dairy-free formula (made with hemp milk). 

BUT (yes, there is a ‘but’) hemp milk is not perfect.  

In comparison to ‘real’ milk, hemp lacks Vitamin D and vitamin A as well as being an insufficient source of calcium.   I solve for this by getting these nutrients from sources elsewhere.  As you’ll see below, the formula contains drops (for Vitamin D), blackstrap molasses (for calcium, B vitamins and iron), and a multi-vitamin to help round out the rest of the nutrient profile.   BUT (yes, there’s another but) we still need to supplement further with REAL food - because the vitamins and minerals in food go much further than the ones we find in a bottle.

Homemade Hemp Milk (Dairy-Free) Formula

 And finally, the recipe.   Here is how we’ve made our little one’s formula for the past 18 months or so (and it’s worth noting that during this time her growth has surpassed expectations).
Hemp Milk Dairy-Free Formula



  1. Mix all of the ingredients into a high speed blender.
  2. Store in a glass jar and refrigerate for up to 48 hours.

A few notes:

  • I’ve included the brands I use above, but feel free to source your own (note that dosing will need to be adjusted).
  • I’ve assumed that the 4 cup batch will last two days so the recipe is designed to give a child the adequate amount of daily nutrients.
  • This formula was tweaked to meet my daughter’s needs based on age, weight and other factors (again, doses may need to be adjusted for your little one).
  • TIP! You can get hemp seeds from Costco for a more reasonable price than you would find at your local grocer or health food store.

How much ‘milk’ do toddlers need?

Whichever ‘milk’ you choose, most children over the age of 1 should have no more than 18 ounces (2 cups) of milk per day.  It’s essential that they get their nutrients from a wider variety of foods (unless there are other complications).  The more milk they drink, the less food they’ll want, and the less nutrients (especially iron and zinc) they will obtain.  Having said that, if milk is your child’s primary source of nutrition, be cautious with how you make the transition so we don’t jeopardize their overall caloric intake.

What about the other non-dairy milks?

Hemp is not the only option if you decide to avoid dairy milk.  There’s a variety dairy-free alternatives (also known as ‘alterna-milks’) including soy, rice, almond, hemp, flax, coconut, oat.  I take a closer look at each of these in this post.

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