Calcium and Kids: What You Need to Know

You know the saying, "Milk does the body good." But do you know just how this fact can best translate into your own child's meals and snacks?

Calcium is essential for building strong and healthy bones. Yet despite that essential health benefits, studies show that the majority of children don't get enough calcium rich foods on a regular basis.

The Need for Calcium Foods

Whatever your child's age and stage, you need to be aware of her calcium needs for healthy bones and teeth. In addition, it's never too soon to start getting enough calcium to prevent a bone disease called osteoporosis that affects people later in life. (Women are particularly at risk for this condition.)

An Overview of Calcium Foods

Exactly how much calcium your child needs will vary by age. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that children eat three servings of dairy products each day (or four for adolescents). Further, babies shouldn't consume whole-milk products until their first birthday.

For children age two and older, AAP recommends selecting skim milk, low-fat yogurt and other low-fat products so your child will get the benefits without excessive calories.

Try these Calcium Foods

Here are some suggestions of delicious ways to incorporate calcium foods into your child's meals and snacks every day:

  • Add cheese into scrambled eggs and omelets.
  • Pack small cheddar cheese slices or string cheese as a snack.
  • Include Swiss or provolone cheese on a ham, turkey or roast beef sandwich.
  • Sprinkle low-fat Mozzarella cheese on a mini bagel with sauce for do-it-yourself pizza.
  • Make grilled cheese with wheat bread and low-fat American cheese.
  • Melt low-fat shredded Italian blend cheese over a casserole of ziti and sauce.
  • Spread cream cheese on a multi-grain bagel or celery sticks.
  • Serve strawberry low-fat yogurt with whole grain cereal sprinkled on top or decorate low-fat frozen yogurt with fresh fruit for healthy summer desserts.
  • Add a dab of chocolate syrup to plain low-fat milk.
  • Make calcium-fortified orange juice and bread staples in your home.
  • Serve broccoli and other dark green leafy vegetables on a regular basis.

Vitamin D Needs

The AAP also recommends that all kids get 400 IU of vitamin D every day. This nutrient is essential to help the body absorb the calcium and maintain optimum bone health. Most children need to take Vitamin D supplements in order to reach this goal.

A Word of Warning

If you have an older child who drinks soda or may be experimenting with tobacco and alcohol, you should know that in addition to the other dangers they pose, these substances can also reduce the absorption of calcium and can put her at increased risk for bone problems later.

Also keep in mind that while getting your calcium from whole foods is always best, when you don't think your child is getting enough on her own, you should talk to your doctor about using vitamins or supplements to increase her daily intake.


American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)/Healthy Children>

Kids Health/Nemours

Milk Matters Campaign