Nutrition

5 Excellent Food Sources of Calcium for Kids: Non-dairy Options

December 29, 2021

I’m Dr. Lindsay
I'm a naturopathic pediatrician based in Colorado Springs offering primary care, chronic care & telemedicine appointments. I'm so glad you're here!
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We worry as mamas that our kids aren’t getting all the nutrients they need for healthy development. There is, after all, a number of them to think about! 

  • Am I serving enough healthy fats?
  • They barely touched their greens today. 
  • Are gummy vitamins doing enough? 

You know getting enough calcium is crucial for young kids, and some mamas worry their child isn’t getting enough – especially if they’re not a big milk drinker. But once you realize there are other foods – yep, even outside the dairy section! – that contain calcium, you can take a sigh of relief. It becomes easier than you might think to get your child their recommended daily intake. 

Why Do Kids Need Calcium? 

To grow healthy, strong bones, right? Heck, yes! But this power-house nutrient does even more. Calcium assists in many parts of brain development. The amount that’s ingested early in life is linked to protection later in life, like long-term memory. (1) (2) It also helps build healthy teeth. One study showed a link between calcium intake and significantly lower plaque scores. (3) 

This might be surprising, but vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium absorption in the gut and bones. (4) So even if your child is getting their recommended daily intake of calcium, they won’t get these important health benefits if they’re not getting enough vitamin D, too. We’ll talk more about vitamin D later on in this article. First, let’s look at calcium-rich foods to include in your kiddo’s diet. 

Kid-Friendly Food Sources of Calcium 

Dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt contain high amounts of calcium and are an excellent way for your kiddo to get their calcium. Cheddar, parmesan, and swiss cheeses are wonderful options for kids because they are low in lactose compared to other cheeses. However, many young kids have an intolerance to dairy (lactose intolerance) and try to avoid it completely. If this is your kiddo, you’re not alone. The good news is we do actually have other options.Here are 5 kid-friendly, non-dairy foods with high calcium: 

  1. Calcium-fortified foods and drinks

    Fortified foods like cereal, tofu, non-dairy milk, and orange juice are often wonderful sources of calcium. Some of these can contain nearly 30% of a child’s daily intake in just one serving. Be sure to always check the label on these. Some cereal and OJ brands are packed with sugar – I recommend avoiding these as best you can. If vitamin D is listed as an ingredient, that’s a huge plus!

  2. Salmon canned with bones

    Canned salmon is packed with calcium thanks to its bones, with about 180mg per serving. (5) If your child isn’t a fan of eating it plain, try incorporating it into familiar recipes your kiddo enjoys like salmon burgers or a spread to put on toast.

  3. Almonds

    Almonds are a go-to healthy snack, packed with healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, and calcium. (6) Half a cup contains about 123 mg of calcium. They’re tasty as is, but also easy to use in other recipes. You can serve almonds to your kiddo as almond butter, include them in a trail mix, or slice them up to top any dish. 

  4. Figs 

    Is it just me, or do a lot of people forget about figs? This delicious fruit has about 65mg of calcium per 2 figs. Buy them dried or fresh and see which way your child prefers them. Dried figs are easy to throw in a trail mix and fresh figs can be mixed into oatmeal or smoothies. 

  5. Collard greens, kale, and spinach

    Remember when you’d watch Popeye gulp down a can of spinach and instantly grow arm muscles? Well, there’s some truth behind this! While the effects might not be the same visually… dark leafy greens are packed with nutrients, calcium included. Sneak any of these three into smoothies or sautee them in olive oil with salt and pepper to make these veggies more kid-friendly. 

How Much Calcium Do Kids Need? 

Our body needs different amounts of calcium at different stages of life. It’s critical for children to get enough calcium because our body begins to store the nutrient in our bones when we are babies. The calcium we take in as a kid will protect us from developing health issues later in life. (7) Calcium is measured in milligrams (mg). Check below to learn how much your child needs:

  • 0-6 months: 200 mg
  • 7-12 months: 260 mg
  • 1-3 years: 700 mg
  • 4-8 years: 1,000 mg
  • 9-13 years: 1,300 mg
  • 14-18 years: 1,300 mg
  • 19-50 years: 1,000 mg
  • 51-70 years: 1,000 mg
  • >70 years: 1,200 (8) 

*Note: These numbers may vary if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Too much calcium may be equally as harmful as getting too little, as is true with most nutrients. Visit your doctor to get a blood test and check your child’s calcium levels. 

Food Sources of Vitamin D 

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in growing and maintaining healthy bones. It also promotes a healthy brain, immune system, lungs, and more. We have fewer options when it comes to getting the vitamin D we need through food. I recommend to all my patients that they get their kiddo tested for vitamin D levels and supplement when needed. But as with all nutrients, it’s best to get them through foods when you can. 

Here are a few food sources of vitamin D to include in your child’s diet:

  • Salmon, cod, sardines, and rainbow trout
  • Fortified non-dairy milk 
  • Eggs

The amount of vitamin D our body is able to use is largely dependent on the health of our gut. Focus on feeding your child healthy, whole foods to support a healthy gut microbiome. 

Conclusion 

Please remember: You can only do what’s in your control when it comes to serving your kiddo healthy foods. If you try getting creative in the kitchen because you desperately want your child to eat the foods in this article, but they just won’t have it, don’t panic. Speak with your trusted pediatrician. They’ll work with you to figure out another way to get your child the calcium they need. 

Are you looking for a naturopathic pediatrician in Colorado Springs? I’d love to support your family! Schedule a free phone consultation with me here to determine if naturopathic medicine is a good fit for your family. 

You’ve got this, mama!

Resources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3351002/ 

  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160826083948.htm 

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3720203/ 

  4. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/#:~:text=Vitamin%20D%20promotes%20calcium%20absorption,leading%20to%20cramps%20and%20spasms

  5. https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/calciumvitamin-d/a-guide-to-calcium-rich-foods/ 

  6. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/almonds/ 

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4337919/ 

  8. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/ 

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