Calcium is a vital nutrient responsible for strong, healthy bones. Bone growth mostly occurs in childhood, which is why it is important for children to have adequate calcium – an average of 800mg per day – in their diet. Adolescents need even more: 1200-1500mg per day.
Kids who don’t like or are allergic to milk can find it challenging to incorporate their daily requirement. For those children, there are other options to ensure adequate calcium intake:
- There are numerous plant based milk products on the market. These include rice, soy, coconut, and almond milks. All of these products are fortified with calcium. Typically these alternatives contain 100-300mg of calcium per 8 ounce serving.
- Orange juice is also fortified with calcium, delivering about 300mg per cup. Cereals, like multigrain cheerios, are also now fortified with calcium.
- Green leafy vegetables, including kale, mustard greens, beet greens, turnip greens, collard greens, contain a large amount of calcium. However, they can be tricky to get into a child’s diet. A great option to incorporate some of these would be a berry smoothie with kale. Spinach is another leafy green that contains calcium, but is poorly absorbed due to high levels of oxalates.
- Broccoli is another green vegetable that contains a good amount of calcium and it is more absorbable than the calcium in regular milk.
- Beans and legumes are an excellent alternative to milk. Navy beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, lentils and chickpeas (garbanzo beans) are all loaded with calcium. Chickpeas are a main ingredient in hummus, which is a fun dip that many kids love. Soy based products, including tofu and soybeans, like edamame, also contain a high amount of calcium.
- Nuts and seeds are another great option for calcium. One cup of almonds contains 243mg of calcium. Hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and flaxseeds all contain the same or more calcium per 1 cup serving than regular milk!
Combining a variety of these foods can ensure children are getting enough calcium each day. If eating these foods is a challenge, supplementation is the best option. Calcium supplements are available in liquid, chewable tablet and capsule forms.
About The Author: As a naturopathic pediatric physician, Dr. Smialek focuses her practice on patients between birth and 18 years of age. In addition to well checks, Dr. Smialek treats many common childhood conditions including asthma, ear infections, colds/flu, colic and food allergies. She also advises parents on alternative vaccination schedules.