When considering their children’s nutrition, parents often think more about fat grams, carbs, and calories, and forget about calcium, a mineral that is important to help build strong and healthy bones.
How much calcium do your kids need?
It depends on how old they are, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children who are:
- 1-3 years old get 500mg per day (about 2 servings of milk)
- 4-8 years old get 800mg per day (about 3 servings of milk)
- 9-18 years old get 1300mg per day (about 4 servings of milk)
Unfortunately, most children, especially teens, get much less than their recommended daily requirements for calcium. This makes it important to think about calcium as you plan your children’s diet.
Foods With Calcium
Milk is the food that is most often associated as being high in calcium. It is important to note that there are plenty of other foods that are good sources of calcium though, including other dairy products, many vegetables, calcium fortified orange juice, and other calcium fortified foods.
Foods that are good sources of calcium can include:
low fat plain yogurt: 300-450mg per serving (1 cup)
american cheese: 350mg per serving (2 oz)
cow’s milk (either whole milk or low fat milk): 300mg per serving (1 cup)
calcium fortified soy milk, rice milk, or goat’s milk: 300mg per serving (1 cup)
calcium fortified orange juice: 300mg per serving (1 cup)
cheddar cheese: 300mg per serving (1.5 oz)
cooked dried white beans: 161mg per serving (1 oz)
dried figs: 169mg per serving (10 figs)
spinach: 120mg per serving (1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked)
soft serve ice cream: 118mg per serving (1/2 cup)
oranges: 50mg per serving (1 medium orange)
instant oatmeal: 100mg (1 packet)
sweet potatoes: 44mg per serving (1/2 cup mashed)
broccoli: 35mg per serving (1 1/2 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked)
Dark green, leafy vegetables, tofu, lentils, sardines, and salmon, are also good sources of calcium, which in addition to soy milk and orange juice, are good sources of calcium for kids with a milk allergy.
Foods or meals that are prepared with the above foods, such as pizza, a grilled cheese sandwich, lasagna, or a burrito with beans and cheese, are also good ways to get enough calcium.
Keep in mind that the amount of calcium in many prepared foods can vary depending on which brand you buy. For example, one type of cheese might have only 5% of your child’s daily allowance of calcium (about 50mg), while another might have 30% or 300mg. Reading food labels and being on the lookout for foods that have at least 20-30% calcium can help to make sure that your kids are getting enough calcium.
And remember that kids over age 9 years need 1300mg of calcium, which is above the 1000mg or 100% daily value that is listed on food labels. So while you can still add up the % Daily Value of calcium for each food your kids eat to see if they are getting enough, make sure it adds up to 130% for older kids.
Calcium Fortified Foods
Many other foods, including bread and cereal, may also be fortified with calcium, and can help boost your child’s daily intake of calcium. Check the nutrition facts label to find those brands that are fortified with calcium.
Claims on the package itself, for example that the food is ‘high in calcium,’ ‘rich in calcium,’ or an ‘excellent source of calcium,’ can also help you find foods that are high in calcium, with 20% of more of the calcium DV. On the other hand, a food that is just a ‘good source of calcium’ is going to have just 10% to 19% of the calcium DV.
It can be hard to get kids enough calcium if they don’t like milk, yogurt, and orange juice. Making things even more difficult is the fact that these types of picky eaters are also unlikely to want to eat other foods that are good sources of calcium, such as spinach and broccoli.
You may think that you can make up for your kids not getting enough calcium in their diet by giving them a vitamin, but the average vitamin has very little calcium in it. For example, a Flintstones Complete multivitamin only has 100mg of calcium in it. Even the Flintstones Plus Calcium vitamin only has 200mg of calcium in it, which is less than even a single glass of milk.
You may have to ask your Pediatrician if your older child can take Tums or a calcium chew vitamin, like Viactiv, if your kids aren’t getting much calcium from other sources. At 500mg each, these supplements make it easy to make sure your kids are getting enough calcium.
If your kids do drink some milk, consider adding a packet of Nestle Carnation Instant Breakfast mix to boost the calcium content of a glass of milk by another 250mg. If your kids drink it with a grilled cheese sandwich made with bread and cheese that are ‘high in calcium,’ then they may get up to 900mg of calcium in one meal!