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Building good nutrition habits and eating patterns in early childhood is important – that includes understanding and providing calcium foods for kids!
Most kids consume a good amount of milk and other dairy products throughout the day, therefore meeting their daily calcium requirement.
I also saw a lot of kids while I was in practice who didn’t like milk or who practiced a non-dairy diet! In those cases, I unfortunetly saw a lot of parents struggling to get their child to meet their daily calcium intake.
Below you can find information to help you make sure your tiny foodie is eating and drinking enough calcium throughout the day – food sources of calcium, why calcium is important, daily requirements by age, and calcium rich snack ideas.
Calcium Rich Foods for Kids
Dairy is the best and most well known source of calcium food for kids. Luckily, there are also many non-dairy sources of calcium rich foods too. Also, many foods and drinks are fortified with calcium now-a-days.
Let’s dive into some food sources of calcium!
Dairy Sources of Calcium
- cottage cheese
- ice cream
- creams – like in cream based soups
Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
- dark, leafy green veggies – spinach, kale, collard greens, bok choy
- canned fish
- tofu made with calcium
- beans and lentils
- calcium fortified drinks – soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, juices
- calcium fortified food – breakfast cereal
- chia seeds
- almonds & almond butter
How Much Milk Should Your Child Drink Daily?
Many parents ask me how much milk their child should be drinking daily. Having a milk drinker is great for their calcium intake, but not so good for iron absorption because calcium and iron compete for absorption.
I recommend keeping your child’s daily milk intake to the following:
Children age 2-8 should drink 2-3 cups of milk per day.
A good way to ensure your child is drinking enough milk (but not too much) daily is to serve milk at meal time following this schedule:
What if your child drinks a milk alternative? The good news is most milk alternatives – soy, almond, oat, etc. – are fortified so they meet the same calcium content as regular milk. Therefore, you can follow the same recommendations I have mentioned above.
Why Is Calcium Important?
Why should we care about our kiddos eating and drinking enough calcium everyday?
Most parents know it is important for kids to meet their daily calcium intake because calcium is important for bone health, but calcium also has a number of other functions/reasons why its important:
- healthy bones – including your teeth
- healthy heart
- helps muscle & nerve function
- blood clotting
- promotes healthy growth in childhood
Adequate intake of calcium in childhood is especially important because the calcium we consume in childhood affects our peak bone mass as we age – protecting us from developing osteoporosis & being prone to frequent fractures.
You’ll also notice in the next section, where I cover daily calcium requirement by age, that there is an increase in calcium needs from 9-13 years old. Calcium intake is so important during these years because the most bone formation takes place during puberty.
Daily Calcium Requirement By Age
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium changes as we age to meet our body’s needs.
Some important things to note:
- The RDA for pregnant & breastfeeding women is the same as a normal adult.
- Calcium requirements from 0-12 months are met as long as your baby is feeding normally – breast milk or formula.
Calcium Rich Snacks for Kids
Many parents came to my office wondering how they could get their child to consume more calcium. My answer was always simple:
- Offer a small cup of milk at breakfast, lunch, & dinner. See the example schedule above.
- Offer calcium rich snacks throughout the day.
Kids who don’t drink regular milk will sometimes opt to drink it if flavored syrup or powder is added to the milk – chocolate, strawberry, etc. So what about these syrups? Are they good for our kiddos?
Flavored syrups & powder are okay to add into milk in small amounts, occasionally. They add extra calories and sugar to your child’s milk. I always recommend Ovaltine if you need to add flavor to your child’s milk. It is pacted with extra vitamins & minerals!
Let’s Wrap It Up
Hopefully after reading through the information in this blog post you have a better idea of why calcium is important for your kids and how you can increase the calcium in their diet, if needed.