For growing children and teens, getting enough calcium is crucial to building bone mass, which may help guard against osteoporosis and fractures later in life. But by age 12, fewer than 1 in 10 girls and 1 in 3 boys get adequate daily calcium: 700 mg for children ages 1 to 3; 1,000 mg for ages 4 to 8; and 1,300 mg - equal to about 4 cups of milk - for ages 9 to 18. Here are a dozen kid-friendly ways to get calcium into your child's daily diet.
- Dairy Go-round: Milk, Cheese, and Yogurt
"Small amounts of calcium in other foods add up," says Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian who is a mother and an Everyday Health Healthy Eating expert. "But the real dose of calcium for most of us comes from dairy foods." A cup of cow's milk has about 300 mg of calcium, about the same as 1 cup of yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese. For children age 2 and older, switch to low-fat and nonfat dairy products. And when it comes to flavors, "it's better to drink plain milk," says Krieger, "but it's better to drink flavored milk than no milk."
- Soy Good: Calcium-Fortified Soymilk
What if your child can't or won't drink cow's milk? A variety of foods contain added calcium, including milk, cheese, and yogurt made from soybeans. Soymilk without added calcium contains only about 10 mg per cup, and that calcium is difficult for the body to absorb. But calcium-fortified soymilk and soy products have as much calcium as cow's milk and sometimes more. Use soy products as you would dairy products: Pour over cereal, pack in a lunch, or provide as a snack.
- Get a Calcium Boost With Orange Juice
Fortified orange juice brims with calcium - as much as 500 mg is added to each cup. Calcium content varies among orange juice products, however, so read nutrition labels carefully. Keep in mind that the percentage "daily value" listed on labels is based on the needs of adults up to age 50: 1,000 mg. Children and teens need 500 to 1,300 mg daily, depending on age. While fortified orange juice is a great way to get calcium, Krieger also recommends fresh oranges, each of which naturally contains about 50 mg of calcium.
- The Calcium Power of Fish Bones
The processing of canned salmon softens the bones, making them easy to digest - it's the bones that provide the calcium. A 3-ounce serving of pink salmon, along with the bones, provides about 180 mg of calcium - about two-thirds the amount in a cup of milk. The challenge is to make salmon bones palatable to a child. First, mash the salmon so the bones are less noticeable. Then, use canned salmon in fish cakes instead of crab, or add it to casseroles in place of tuna.
Green peas contain about 45 mg of calcium per cup. But they may help improve bone health in another way: Green peas are packed with vitamin K, and some studies have shown that vitamin K supplements may increase bone mineral density and bone strength. Moreover, green peas are loaded with nutrients besides calcium. They're an excellent source of vitamins C and A and protein, and like broccoli, they can be combined with a dairy product to enhance their calcium dose. Try "creamed" peas made with low-fat milk, or toss some peas with pasta and a light, cheesy white sauce.
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