Calcium in your child's diet
BDS, Diploma in Hospital Administration, Diploma in Pharmacy
23 years experience
Calcium is crucial for good health and development.Calcium is vital for building strong bones and teeth, promoting nerve and muscle function, helping blood clot, and activating the enzymes that convert food into energy. About 99 percent of the body's calcium is stored in the teeth and bones. And because children are growing new bone all the time, they need a steady supply of calcium to support healthy growth.
How much calcium does your child need?
Ages 1 to 3 years: 700 milligrams (mg) per day
Ages 4 to 8 years: 1,000 mg per day
Your child doesn't have to get the recommended amount of calcium every day. Instead, aim for that amount as an average over the course of a few days or a week.
The best sources of calcium
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are some of the best sources of calcium, but you'll also find it in some unexpected places. Here are some calcium-rich foods to try:
1/4 cup raw tofu prepared with calcium sulfate: 217 mg (The calcium content of tofu varies, depending on how it's processed. Check the label.)
1/2 cup plain yogurt: 207 mg
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses: 172 mg
1/2 cup fruit yogurt: 122 to 192 mg
1/2 cup calcium-fortified orange juice: 133 to 250 mg
1/4 cup ricotta cheese: 167 mg
1/2 cup milk: 150 mg
1/2 cup chocolate milk: 144 mg
1/2 ounce Swiss cheese: 112 mg
1/2 cup vanilla frozen yogurt, soft-serve: 102 mg
1/2 ounce cheddar cheese: 102 mg
1 slice whole grain bread: 24 mg
1/2 ounce mozzarella cheese: 103 mg
1/4 cup collard greens: 66 mg
1/4 cup homemade pudding (from mix or scratch): 76 mg
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed butter): 64 mg
1/4 cup turnip greens: 50 mg
1/4 cup cooked spinach: 60 mg
1/2 cup calcium-fortified cereal (ready to eat): 51 mg
1/2 cup calcium-fortified soy beverage: 40 to 250 mg
The amount of calcium a food contains varies somewhat, depending on the brand, the size of the fruit or vegetable, and so on. Kids may eat more or less than the amounts shown, depending on their age and appetite. Estimate the nutrient content accordingly.
Calcium content isn't affected by fat, but the dietary fat in dairy products plays an important role in your child's development. Children younger than 2 need to get half their calories from fat for healthy growth and brain development, so they should eat only full-fat dairy products. But unless your doctor advises otherwise, children older than 2 need to get fewer calories from fat, so they should eat low-fat or nonfat dairy products to maintain a healthy weight.
Tips for maximizing your child's calcium intake
Some experts believe that many children are falling short of their calcium requirement. This could be partly because juice and other nondairy drinks are so popular that kids are drinking less milk. Here are some simple steps you can take to make sure your child gets enough calcium:
Use milk instead of water when preparing cereal, hot cocoa, and soup.
Use evaporated milk in place of regular milk in recipes – it has twice the calcium of regular milk.
Add yogurt to fruit salads; nonfat milk powder to pancake batter, sauces, and smoothies; and cheese to vegetables, sauces, and mashed potatoes.
Buy calcium-fortified juice, bread, and cereal.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, so make sure your child gets enough vitamin D – about 600 international units (IU) per day.
Can your child get too much calcium?
An extremely high level of calcium in the blood is usually due to an underlying medical condition rather than consuming too much calcium in food and supplements. The Institute of Medicine recommends that kids age 1 to 8 get no more than 2,500 mg of calcium daily – that's roughly the equivalent of eight 8-ounce glasses of milk. While it's a good idea to keep an eye on how much calcium your child gets from her diet, it's unlikely that she will get too much calcium from food alone.
Calcium supplements, on the other hand, can sometimes be a problem. For instance, taking excess calcium supplements has been linked to a higher risk of kidney stones.
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