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Calcium Rich Foods for Kids

calcium-rich foods for kids

This post was published previously and has been updated.

Foods High in Calcium

Calcium rich foods can be a hot topic of discussion amongst parents.

What foods have calcium? How much calcium is in milk? Which vegetables are high in calcium?

Parents like you want to know about calcium, and how to make sure your child is getting enough.

Bones are growing, after all!

Some people have called the need for calcium into question for kids. For example, milk has been questioned as a necessary component to a child’s diet.

There have been grumbles about whether calcium actually keeps the bones strong, suggestions that enough vitamin D can be found in non-dairy foods and from the sunlight, and reminders that milk may contribute to childhood obesity.

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

Why Calcium Food Sources Matter

For the record, where you get calcium —which calcium rich foods are eaten and their quantities—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 simply 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 getting a whole host of other important bone nutrients, such as protein 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 Daily Recommended 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.

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

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

Calcium Content of Foods 

Food Serving Size Calcium Content
1% Milk 1 cup 314 mg
2% milk 1 cup 314 mg
Whole milk (3.25%) 1 cup 276 mg
Soymilk, all flavors, unsweetened 1 cup 301 mg
Chocolate soymilk 1 cup 306 mg
Almond milk, vanilla 1 cup 451 mg
Rice drink, fortified w/ calcium 1 cup 283 mg
Yogurt, plain, low fat 1 cup 311 mg
Mozzarella cheese, shredded ½ cup1 ounce 306 mg163 mg
Cheddar cheese, low fat, diced ½ cup 225 mg
American cheese, processed 1 slice 314 mg
Cottage cheese (2%) ½ cup 125 mg
Tofu (prepared with calcium sulfate) ½ cup 861 mg
Sardines, canned in oil ½ cup 285 mg
Soybeans 1 cup 515 mg
Almonds, roasted ¼ cup 115 mg
Sesame seeds 1 ounce 280 mg
Collard greens, cooked 1 cup 357 mg
Eggnog 1 cup 350 mg
Amaranth (grain), uncooked 1 cup 307 mg
Cream of Wheat, cooked 1 cup 306 mg
V8 juice, calcium enriched 1 cup 299 mg
Mung beans, raw 1 cup 273 mg
Spinach, canned 1 cup 272 mg
Ricotta, whole milk ½ cup 257 mg
Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup 249 mg
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 201 mg
Figs, dried 1 cup 241 mg
Bagel, enriched w/ calcium (plain, poppy seed, onion, sesame) 1 bagel 217 mg
Brazil nuts 1 cup 213 mg
Bread, white wheat 1 slice 192 mg
Tempeh 1 cup 184 mg
Chia seeds, dry 1 ounce 179 mg
Mustard greens, cooked 1 cup 165 mg
Beet greens, cooked 1 cup 164 mg
Kale, raw 1 cup 53 mg

**Values obtained from the USDA Nutrient Database

Vegetables High in Calcium

I want to address calcium rich vegetables because the 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. A cup of oriental radishes (730 mg), soybeans (500 mg), cooked collards (357 mg) and turnip greens (250 mg) give the highest amounts of calcium per cup, according to the USDA Nutrient Database. 

But broccoli didn’t make my list of high sources, kale barely did, and spinach needs to be cooked to be notable.

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 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. 

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 that may reduce overall calcium absorption.

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.

Click on the photo below to learn more:

calcium foods

Or click here to purchase a copy.

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

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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!