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Calcium Rich Foods for Kids

calcium-rich foods for kids

This post was updated in January 2019.

Calcium Rich Foods

Foods high in calcium can be a hot topic of discussion among adults.

What foods have calcium?

How much calcium is in milk?

Which vegetables are high in calcium?

As a pediatric nutritionist, I know parents like you know how important calcium is to kids health. You want healthy kids and you want to make sure your children are getting enough.

Those little bones are growing, after all!

[Read my in-depth guide about calcium called The Calcium Handbook}

In this article, I’ll review what calcium does, why it’s needed for kids, and how you can ensure your child gets enough.

Do Kids Need Calcium?

Some people question the need for calcium in kids. Others have questioned whether milk and dairy products are a necessary component to a child’s diet.

On the flip side, there have been grumbles about whether calcium actually keeps the bones strong, suggestions that plenty of vitamin D can be found in non-dairy foods and from the sunlight. Or, they warn that milk may contribute to childhood obesity.

Let me say this loud and clear: I believe calcium rich foods are required in a child’s diet.

Calcium rich foods are required in a child's diet. #bonegrowth #healthykids #kidshealth #thenourshedchild Click To Tweet

Why Calcium Food Sources Matter

For the record, where you get calcium in food — which calcium rich foods are eaten and the amounts that are eaten—is a matter of personal preference.

A vegetarian may get all of his calcium from non-animal sources; a child with a milk allergy may get calcium from calcium-fortified non-dairy foods.

Other families may just prefer not to consume real milk, for whatever reason, and get their calcium from a variety of different foods, like vegetables.

I answer the question of whether kids really need calcium rich foods like milk with “it depends.”

Look at your child’s medical circumstances, your family food practices, your child’s eating habits and food preferences (read: what he will eat), and the other realities of making nutrition happen in your home.

They all play out differently for every family.

While I have always been a supporter of milk as part of a healthy diet, I understand that milk isn’t for everyone.

However, calcium is for every growing child. And that means calcium rich foods.

Calcium IS for every growing child. Where is your child getting his calcium from? Click To Tweet

Calcium Foods are Plentiful

Milk is just one food that helps kids meet their calcium requirement.

Surveys and studies show real milk is an easy way for kids to meet their calcium requirements, while also getting a whole host of other important bone nutrients, such as protein, vitamin D, and potassium.

But milk isn’t the only way to meet your child’s calcium needs.

How Much Calcium Do Kids Need?

According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for calcium in children aged 4-8 years is 1,000 mg per day.

The requirement for kids and teens aged 9-18 years is 1,300 milligrams per day.

Which Foods Have Calcium?

The following chart includes foods high in calcium to help your child or teen meet his daily requirements.

The foods you choose to offer, and how you combine them to match the total daily calcium requirement is your choice.

Calcium Content of Foods 

FoodServing SizeCalcium Content
1% Milk1 cup314 mg
2% milk1 cup314 mg
Whole milk (3.25%)1 cup276 mg
Soy milk, all flavors, unsweetened1 cup301 mg
Chocolate soy milk1 cup306 mg
Almond milk, vanilla1 cup451 mg
Rice drink, fortified w/ calcium1 cup283 mg
Yogurt, plain, low fat1 cup311 mg
Mozzarella cheese, shredded½ cup 

1 ounce

306 mg 

163 mg

Cheddar cheese, low fat, diced½ cup225 mg
American cheese, processed1 slice314 mg
Cottage cheese (2%)½ cup125 mg
Tofu (prepared with calcium sulfate)½ cup861 mg
Sardines, canned in oil½ cup285 mg
Soybeans1 cup515 mg
Almonds, roasted¼ cup115 mg
Sesame seeds1 ounce280 mg
Collard greens, cooked1 cup357 mg
Eggnog1 cup350 mg
Amaranth (grain), uncooked1 cup307 mg
Cream of Wheat, cooked1 cup306 mg
V8 juice, calcium enriched1 cup299 mg
Mung beans, raw1 cup273 mg
Spinach, canned1 cup272 mg
Ricotta, whole milk½ cup257 mg
Turnip greens, cooked1 cup249 mg
Spinach, cooked1 cup201 mg
Figs, dried1 cup241 mg
Bagel, enriched w/ calcium (plain, poppy seed, onion, sesame)1 bagel217 mg
Brazil nuts1 cup213 mg
Bread, white wheat1 slice192 mg
Tempeh1 cup184 mg
Chia seeds, dry1 ounce179 mg
Mustard greens, cooked1 cup165 mg
Beet greens, cooked1 cup164 mg
Kale, raw1 cup53 mg

**Values obtained from the USDA Nutrient Database

Vegetables High in Calcium

I want to address calcium rich vegetables as I am asked about this topic comes up a lot. 

I hear people talk about broccoli, spinach, and other foods, especially vegetables, being high in calcium.

Vegetables are a source of calcium, no doubt. Take a look at the following calcium-containing vegetables:

A cup of oriental radishes (730 mg)

soybeans (500 mg)

cooked collards (357 mg) 

turnip greens (250 mg)

These veggies give the highest amounts of calcium per cup, according to the USDA Nutrient Database. 

Did you notice? Broccoli didn’t make my list of high sources, kale barely did, and spinach needs to be cooked to be a notable source.

A Reality Check:

The calcium in 1 cup of raw, chopped broccoli is 43 mg.

The calcium in 1 cup of raw spinach is 53 mg.

The calcium in 1/4 cup of almonds is 115 mg.

As a reminder, your young child’s calcium needs are 1,000 mg/day.

Your teen’s requirements are 1,300 mg/day.

(It takes 23 cups of broccoli to equal 1,000 mg calcium.)

I’ve yet to meet a child who is eating enough broccoli, kale or almonds to meet his calcium needs on a daily basis.

You certainly can combine vegetables and other calcium food sources to match calcium requirements, but this takes forethought and planning. 

The bioavailability of calcium, or the absorption of calcium in the body from foods, is another factor to consider. Vegetables contain substances like oxalates and phytates, which may interfere with calcium absorption and reduce the overall amount absorbed.

A Resource on Calcium Rich Foods for Kids

I’ve written a small guidebook that digs into your child’s calcium requirements even further, and provides ways to help you make sure your child is growing healthy, strong bones using a variety of calcium foods.

I take into consideration the eating habits of children, making practical suggestions on how to balance the overall diet to encourage plenty of calcium, while helping you with advice should you have a child who isn’t meeting his needs.

Learn more about The Calcium Handbook:

calcium foods

Also, for an expert interview with Dr. Taylor Wallace on bone growth in children, tune in to The Nourished Child podcast.

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  1. I have a 2.75 year old boy who loves his milk in a bottle. Recently, I took it away, he’s becoming a young man (lol). While the act of taking it away was easy, he refuses to drink milk out of any of the myriad of cups I have at home. (He does however, drink milk I am told while at day-care ). What’s better, bringing back the bottle so he can drink his milk (not just for calcium, protein, but also the hydration it provides) , or keep trying with maybe a new sippy cup or simply increasing his calcium intake using other foods ? Thank you.

    1. Hi Tina,
      Given his age, i would try to move forward and away from the bottle permanently. You can try an open-top cup when he’s at the table or highchair, a sippy without the stopper, or even a straw. I would also try offering other foods that are a calcium source (check the list in the blog post)–i think if you approach this with several strategies, you’ll have success!