Calcium rich foods for kids help ensure proper bone growth and development, plus a whole lot more.
The topic of calcium for kids is a point of discussion for many parents.
What foods have calcium?
How much calcium is in milk?
Which vegetables are high in calcium?
As a pediatric nutritionist, I know parents understand how important calcium is to kids’ health. Those little bones are growing, after all, and the bone-building nutrients are essential to this process.
In this article, I’ll review what calcium does, why it’s needed for kids, and how you can ensure your child gets enough.
Calcium for Kids: Do They Need It?
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’ve been grumbles about whether calcium actually keeps the bones strong, and suggestions that kids can get plenty of vitamin D from non-dairy foods and from the sunlight. Others 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 is a matter of personal preference.
Other families may 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 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.
Although 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-containing foods.Calcium IS for every growing child. Where is your child getting his calcium from? Click To Tweet
Calcium Foods for Kids 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
|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|
|Soy milk, all flavors, unsweetened||1 cup||301 mg|
|Chocolate soy milk||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 cup
|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
What about vegetables? you might be thinking. This question comes up a lot so I want to address calcium rich vegetables.
It’s no surprise 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)
A cup of soybeans (500 mg)
A cup of cooked collards (357 mg)
A cup of 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. Take a look again:
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 and use 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 about calcium supplements should you have a child who isn’t meeting his needs.
Learn more about The Calcium Handbook as well as my other nutrition books for parents and tune in to my expert interview with Dr. Taylor Wallace on bone growth in children, on The Nourished Child podcast.
This post was updated from its original in January 2019.