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Calcium Rich Foods

Child Nutrition Basics

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Updated May 22, 2014

Young boy drinking milk
Chris Stein/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Updated May 22, 2014
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "The average dietary intake of calcium by children and adolescents is well below the recommended levels of adequate intake." This can mean that these children will not develop their optimal bone mass, which can put them at risk of fractures and osteoporosis.

Understanding which foods are high in calcium can help you ensure that you are encouraging your kids to get enough calcium in their diet by choosing calcium rich foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Remember that children should eat 3 age-appropriate servings of dairy products per day (4 servings per day for adolescents) or the equivalent to get enough calcium in their diet.

Daily Calcium Needs

It is also important to understand how much calcium kids actually need. The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences recommends:
  • 500 mg a day for kids who are 1 to 3 years old
  • 800 mg a day for kids who are 4 to 8 years old
  • 1,300 mg a day for kids who are 9 to 18 years old
Keep in mind that calcium's percent Daily Value (% DV), which is a guide to how much of a particular nutrient you should get each day, on food labels is based on the adult requirements of 1000 mg a day. So a cup of milk that was 30% DV for calcium, would be equal to 300 mg of calcium, which would actually be equal to 60% of a toddler's calcium needs for the day. But it would be only about 23% of a teen's calcium needs. That means that you can only really use the % DV as a guide to how much calcium your kids are getting from the foods they are eating each day.

Calcium Rich Foods

In addition to choosing foods from the following list, you should learn to look at food labels and choose foods that have a high % DV for calcium and at least 20% or more. You may find big differences in the calcium content of foods, even among different brands of the same foods such as cheese, juice, and bread.
  • Yogurt, plain
  • Yogurt, fruit
  • Milk, low fat or nonfat
  • Milk, whole
  • Cheese, including American, ricotta, cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese
  • Milk shakes
  • Eggnog
Remember that just because your child is eating cheese, that doesn't mean that she is getting a lot of calcium. Check the nutrition label to make sure the cheese has a lot of calcium. And also look for foods made with these calcium rich foods as ingredients, such as a macaroni and cheese (cheese), pudding (milk), and nachos (cheese).

Nondairy Foods with Calcium

Getting enough calcium can be a especially hard if your kids are allergic to milk. These nondairy foods can be good choices for kids with milk allergies who need calcium:
  • Salmon
  • Tofu
  • Rhubarb
  • Sardines
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens
  • Okra
  • White beans
  • Baked beans
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Bok choy
  • Almonds

Calcium-fortified Foods

In addition to the large number of calcium rich foods that are naturally found, like milk and cheese, a lot of foods are now fortified with calcium. These can be especially good choices if your child doesn't like to drink milk.
  • Calcium-fortified breakfast cereal, including General Mills Whole Grain Total, Total Raisin Bran, Total Cranberry Crunch, and Total Honey Clusters, all of which have 100% DV of calcium per serving!
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Calcium-fortified soy milk
  • SunnyD with Calcium (most SunnyD products don't have calcium, so look for the one that does if your child needs extra calcium in his diet)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Calcium-fortified bread or English muffins
  • Calcium-fortified drink mixes such as Pediasure or Carnation Instant Breakfast
  • Other calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, including General Mills Golden Grahams (350 mg)
By learning to read food labels, you may be able to find other foods that are fortified with calcium.

What You Need To Know

  • Talk to your Pediatrician if you aren't sure if your child is getting enough calcium in his diet.

  • Most varieties of children's vitamins don't have much calcium in them and you may need a special calcium supplement instead.

  • Choose from a combination of calcium rich foods to get even more calcium in your child's diet, such as a grilled cheese sandwich using calcium-fortified bread and cheese or a calcium fortified breakfast cereal with half a cup of low-fat milk.

  • In addition to getting enough calcium in your diet, regular exercise is also important for healthy bones.



Sources:

Frank R. Greer, MD. Optimizing Bone Health and Calcium Intakes of Infants, Children, and Adolescents. PEDIATRICS Vol. 117 No. 2 February 2006, pp. 578-585.

Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press;1997.

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 18. Calcium, Ca (mg) Content of Selected Foods per Common Measure, sorted by nutrient content.

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