Calcium food for kids



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What Is Calcium?

Calcium is a nutrient that builds strong bones. It helps the body in lots of other ways too. Calcium keeps the nerves and muscles working. It also plays a role in keeping the heart healthy.

Why Do Kids Need Calcium?

We only get one chance to build strong bones — when we’re kids and teens. Children who get enough calcium start their adult lives with the strongest bones possible. That protects them against bone loss later in life.

Young kids and babies need calcium and vitamin D to prevent a disease called rickets. Rickets softens the bones and causes bow legs, stunted growth, and sometimes sore or weak muscles.

Where Does Calcium Come From?

Calcium is found in food. Some foods are very high in calcium. Dairy foods like these are among the best natural sources of calcium:

  • milk
  • yogurt
  • hard cheeses, like cheddar

The percentage of fat in milk and other dairy foods doesn’t affect their calcium content — skim, 1%, 2%, or whole all have about the same amount of calcium. Your health care provider will let you know which type of milk is right for your child.

Of course, some kids can’t eat dairy. They have to get calcium from other foods, such as:

  • calcium-set tofu
  • edamame (soybeans)
  • broccoli, collard greens, kale, chard, Chinese cabbage, and other leafy greens
  • almonds and sesame seeds
  • white beans, red beans, and chickpeas
  • oranges, figs, and prunes

Because calcium is so important, food companies often add it to cereal, bread, juice, and other kid-friendly foods.

How Much Calcium Does My Child Need?

Calcium is measured in milligrams (mg). We need different amounts at different stages of life. It’s best if kids get most of their calcium from food. If that’s not possible, health care providers might suggest a calcium supplement.


Babies get their calcium from breast milk or formula:

  • Babies younger than 6 months old need 200 mg of calcium a day.
  • Babies 6 to 11 months old need 260 mg of calcium a day.

The only types of milk babies should have are breast milk or formula. Don’t give cow’s milk or any other kind of milk to babies younger than 1 year old.

Kids and Teens

Kids need more calcium as they get older to support their growing bones:

  • Kids 1 to 3 years old need 700 mg of calcium a day (2–3 servings).
  • Kids 4 to 8 years old need 1,000 mg of calcium a day (2–3 servings).
  • Kids and teens 9 to 18 years old need 1,300 mg of calcium a day (4 servings).

How Can I Help My Child Get Enough Calcium?

Babies get all their calcium from breast milk or formula. Young kids and school-age kids who eat a healthy diet with plenty of dairy also get enough. But preteens and teens may need to add more calcium-rich foods to their diet.

Try these tips to make sure kids and teens get enough calcium:

  • Make parfaits with layers of plain yogurt, fruit, and whole-grain cereal.
  • Make smoothies with fresh fruit and low-fat milk or calcium-fortified soy or almond milk.
  • Add fresh fruit or unsweetened apple butter to cottage cheese or yogurt.
  • Add a drop of strawberry or chocolate syrup to regular milk. Avoid store-bought flavored milk drinks because they can have a lot of sugar.
  • Sprinkle low-fat cheese on top of snacks and meals.
  • Add white beans to favorite soups.
  • Add sesame seeds to baked goods or sprinkle on vegetables.
  • Serve hummus with cut-up vegetables.
  • Add tofu to a stir-fry.
  • Use almond butter instead of peanut butter.
  • Serve edamame as a snack.
  • Top salads or cereals with chickpeas and slivered almonds.
  • Serve more dark green, leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, or Chinese cabbage) with meals.

Kids who can’t eat dairy may not get enough calcium. If your child has lactose intolerance, a milk allergy, or eats a vegan diet, talk to your health care provider about calcium and vitamin D.

What About Vitamin D?

People need vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium. Without it, calcium can’t get where it needs to go to build strong bones.

Vitamin D isn’t in many foods that kids eat. Because of this, health care providers often recommend supplements.

Babies who have only breast milk may need a vitamin D supplement. Baby formula has vitamin D added, so babies who drink more than 32 ounces of formula a day don’t need extra vitamin D.

Ask your health care provider if your baby or child needs a vitamin D supplement.

Reviewed by: Richard W. Kruse, DO and Susan M. Dubowy, PA-C Date reviewed: August 2017

Texas Children’s Blog

With this knowledge, parents would like to know if they should be giving their child a calcium supplement, and if so, which one?

The answer to this is not simple. When the Institute of Medicine recently released new guidelines for vitamin D intake they also released new guidelines for calcium intake for all ages. These new guidelines included some important recommendations for children with an emphasis on an inadequate intake by adolescent girls.

The most important new recommendation is an increase in the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for children (ages 4 to 8) to 1,000 mg each day. The new RDA for adolescents (ages 9 to 18) is 1,300 mg each day.

As parents know, getting to these intakes isn’t that easy. For children to get their recommended intake of calcium and vitamin D, they should get 2-3 servings of dairy products and/or fortified foods (such as fortified breakfast cereal and fortified orange juice) each day. But many children don’t meet these recommendations. Teenage girls often avoid dairy and have limited alternative sources of calcium.

For these children, a calcium supplement may not be a bad idea. Ideally, calcium should be combined with vitamin D and it may be best to choose one that has other minerals such as magnesium and zinc. It is not usually necessary or even a great idea for children to take high doses of calcium supplements (e.g. 1,000 mg each day). A supplement with 200-500 mg each day of calcium, depending on a child’s age and dietary calcium intake, should be plenty.

As far as type of supplement, it isn’t necessary to use expensive supplements for children. Supplements made from calcium carbonate, the most common and least expensive form, are usually well absorbed and tolerated by healthy children. For children with special health care needs, it is best to discuss the amount and form of supplement with your child’s pediatrician.

Please take a look at our video that describes our research into calcium needs at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center.

Do your kids get enough calcium?

Diet and Nutrition, Self Care, Bone Health

As you get your kids ready for school, don’t forget to pack calcium-rich snacks.

According to information published by the National Institutes of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, only 12 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys between the ages of 9 and 13 consume the recommended amounts of calcium they need. enough calcium. In the later teen years, 42 percent of boys consumed enough calcium, but only 10 percent of girls received the calcium their bodies needed.

In the later teen years, 42 percent of young men met their daily requirements, but the number of young women who were calcium deficient increased to 90 percent. Since childhood is a time to build bones and bank calcium, this deficiency can have a devastating effect. Lack of calcium and minerals stored in the bones could lead to osteoporosis later in your child’s life.

According to the National Institutes of Health, children need different amounts of calcium at each age.

  • 1 to 3 years old – 700 mg of calcium each day
  • 4 to 8 years old – 1,000 mg of calcium each day
  • 9 to 18 years old – 1,300 mg of calcium each day

Your child needs to consume enough calcium each day to meet their daily minimum requirements. As a guide, one cup, eight ounces, of milk contains 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium or about 30 percent of an adult’s recommended daily calcium.

If your child is allergic to dairy or does not like milk, there are other ways he or she can add calcium to their diets. Today, there are many substitutes for milk. Lactaid and plant-based milk, such as almond milk, supply the same amount of calcium as cow’s milk. These dairy substitutes can be used on cereal, in cooking and baking with good results.

Stock up on calcium-rich snacks.

Sardines are a great source of calcium, but they’re not usually a favorite snack of children – or many adults for that matter. While the odds of most children eating sardines, canned salmon, turnip greens, or kale may be slim, there are other ways you can fortify your child’s meals or snacks with extra calcium.

The key is finding calcium-rich foods your child enjoys. We’ve put together a list of common foods that you can stock in your refrigerator or in your cupboard to boost your child’s calcium intake.

Here are twenty great-tasting ways to add calcium to your child’s diet.

Snacks and foods with 200 to 400 milligrams of calcium

2 /3 cup of chia seed pudding = 390 milligrams
1-½ ounces of cheddar cheese = 300 milligrams
8 ounces of almond milk = 300 milligrams
8 ounces of cow’s milk = 300 milligrams
8 ounces of fortified orange juice = 270 milligrams
1 cup of macaroni and cheese = 250 milligrams
1 piece of string cheese = 200 milligrams of calcium

5.3 ounces of yogurt = 150 milligrams
1/2 cup of vanilla pudding = 139 milligrams
1 cup of Cheerios = 112.28 milligrams
1/4 cup of almonds = 100 milligrams
2 Tbsp. of almond butter (a substitute for peanut butter) = 100 milligrams

Foods with less than 100 milligrams of calcium

1/2 cup of Garbanzo beans (think hummus) = 80 milligrams
1 cup of shredded Chinese cabbage = 74 milligrams
1 cup raw broccoli = 70 milligrams
1/2 cup of navy beans (cook, blend and add to soups/dips/chili) = 70 milligrams
1/4 cup of Sunflower seeds = 28 milligrams

You can also purchase pre-packaged foods fortified with calcium. Read the nutritional labels to determine how much calcium these foods can add to your child’s diet.

Serving sweet potatoes and creamy yogurt dip with fresh fruit, or adding a slice of cheese to sandwiches and a scoop of whey protein (a dairy byproduct) to your child’s smoothie are other easy ways you can sneak calcium into the foods you serve every day.

Spinach also is reported to have high levels of calcium, but it also includes high levels of oxalic acid, which blocks calcium absorption. While you may get some benefit, it is not wise to depend on spinach as a major source of calcium.

As children reach the teen years, girls especially, may not be open to eating dairy products since they are usually high in calories. You can counter this fact by fixing salads with kale, Bok choy or Chinese cabbage. Make calcium rich soups and stews by adding navy beans, cheese or yogurt. Serve pudding made with almond or low-fat milk. These additions can help your teenager get the calcium she needs.

With a little creativity, you can boost the calcium content of your family’s favorite dishes.

Every body needs calcium for health.

Young or old, active or inactive, every person’s body needs calcium for strong teeth and strong bones. Ninety-nine percent of our calcium is stored in our bones to make them strong.

Calcium is also necessary for:

  • Blood clotting functions
  • Sending and receiving of nerve impulses
  • Muscle contraction and extension
  • The regulation of hormones and other chemicals
  • A rhythmic heartbeat

Without adequate amounts of calcium in the body, people are at risk for osteoporosis, colon cancer, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, kidney stones and weight gain.

Keep calcium in balance.

We should strive to get the calcium we need from the foods we eat. If we can’t, adding a calcium supplement may be necessary.

But, supplements should be used with care and under the direction of your primary care provider. Too much calcium in the body may cause hypercalciuria, high levels of calcium in the blood and urine. This condition can also lead to renal failure, vascular and soft tissue calcification, and kidney stones.

Recent studies also show a relationship between calcium supplements and a buildup of plaque in the arteries.

If you are concerned about child’s bone health, the development of osteoporosis or have questions about calcium, talk to your primary care provider, a registered dietitian or an orthopedic provider.


Calcium is crucial for good health and development. Read on to find out how much calcium your child needs, which sources are the best, and how to avoid getting too little or too much.

Why calcium is important

Calcium is vital for building strong bones and teeth, promoting nerve and muscle function, helping blood clot, and activating the enzymes that convert food into energy. About 99 percent of the body’s calcium is stored in the teeth and bones. And because children are growing new bone all the time, they need a steady supply of calcium to support healthy growth.

How much calcium does your child need?

Ages 1 to 3 years: 700 milligrams (mg) per day

Ages 4 to 8 years: 1,000 mg per day

Your child doesn’t have to get the recommended amount of calcium every day. Instead, aim for that amount as an average over the course of a few days or a week.

The best sources of calcium

Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are some of the best sources of calcium, but you’ll also find it in some unexpected places. Here are some calcium-rich foods to try:

  • 1/4 cup raw tofu prepared with calcium sulfate: 217 mg (The calcium content of tofu varies, depending on how it’s processed. Check the label.)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt: 207 mg
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses: 172 mg
  • 1/2 cup fruit yogurt: 122 to 192 mg
  • 1/2 cup calcium-fortified orange juice: 133 to 250 mg
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese: 167 mg
  • 1/2 cup milk: 150 mg
  • 1/2 cup chocolate milk: 144 mg
  • 1/2 ounce Swiss cheese: 112 mg
  • 1/2 cup vanilla frozen yogurt, soft-serve: 102 mg
  • 1/2 ounce cheddar cheese: 102 mg
  • 1 slice whole grain bread: 24 mg
  • 1/2 ounce mozzarella cheese: 103 mg
  • 1/4 cup collard greens: 66 mg
  • 1/4 cup homemade pudding (from mix or scratch): 76 mg
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed butter): 64 mg
  • 1/4 cup turnip greens: 50 mg
  • 1/4 cup cooked spinach: 60 mg
  • 1/2 cup calcium-fortified cereal (ready to eat): 51 mg
  • 1/2 cup calcium-fortified soy beverage: 40 to 250 mg

The amount of calcium a food contains varies somewhat, depending on the brand, the size of the fruit or vegetable, and so on. Kids may eat more or less than the amounts shown, depending on their age and appetite. Estimate the nutrient content accordingly.

Calcium content isn’t affected by fat, but the dietary fat in dairy products plays an important role in your child’s development. Children younger than 2 need to get half their calories from fat for healthy growth and brain development, so they should eat only full-fat dairy products. But unless your doctor advises otherwise, children older than 2 need to get fewer calories from fat, so they should eat low-fat or nonfat dairy products to maintain a healthy weight.

Tips for maximizing your child’s calcium intake

Some experts believe that many children are falling short of their calcium requirement. This could be partly because juice and other nondairy drinks are so popular that kids are drinking less milk. Here are some simple steps you can take to make sure your child gets enough calcium:

  • Use milk instead of water when preparing cereal, hot cocoa, and soup.
  • Use evaporated milk in place of regular milk in recipes – it has twice the calcium of regular milk.
  • Add yogurt to fruit salads; nonfat milk powder to pancake batter, sauces, and smoothies; and cheese to vegetables, sauces, and mashed potatoes.
  • Buy calcium-fortified juice, bread, and cereal.
  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, so make sure your child gets enough vitamin D – about 600 international units (IU) per day.

Can your child get too much calcium?

An extremely high level of calcium in the blood is usually due to an underlying medical condition rather than consuming too much calcium in food and supplements. The Institute of Medicine recommends that kids age 1 to 8 get no more than 2,500 mg of calcium daily – that’s roughly the equivalent of eight 8-ounce glasses of milk. While it’s a good idea to keep an eye on how much calcium your child gets from her diet, it’s unlikely that she will get too much calcium from food alone.

Calcium supplements, on the other hand, can sometimes be a problem. For instance, taking excess calcium supplements has been linked to a higher risk of kidney stones.

A couple of notes of caution: If your child is a big milk drinker, make sure she’s not getting too many extra calories from milk alone, or that she doesn’t fill up on milk and then have no appetite for other healthy foods. Also, too much calcium can cause constipation.

Find out more: Nine other important nutrients for children

Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age

The foods we eat contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients that help keep our bodies healthy. Two nutrients in particular, calcium and vitamin D, are needed for strong bones.

  • The role of calcium
  • Calcium culprits
  • Calcium supplements
  • Vitamin D
  • A complete osteoporosis program

The role of calcium

Calcium is needed for our heart, muscles, and nerves to function properly and for blood to clot. Inadequate calcium significantly contributes to the development of osteoporosis. Many published studies show that low calcium intake throughout life is associated with low bone mass and high fracture rates. National nutrition surveys have shown that most people are not getting the calcium they need to grow and maintain healthy bones. To find out how much calcium you need, see the “Recommended calcium intakes” chart below.

Recommended calcium intakes

Life-stage group mg/day
Source: Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 2010.
Infants 0 to 6 months 200
Infants 6 to 12 months 260
1 to 3 years old 700
4 to 8 years old 1,000
9 to 13 years old 1,300
14 to 18 years old 1,300
19 to 30 years old 1,000
31 to 50 years old 1,000
51- to 70-year-old males 1,000
51- to 70-year-old females 1,200
70 years old 1,200
14 to 18 years old, pregnant/lactating 1,300
19 to 50 years old, pregnant/lactating 1,000

To learn how easily you can include more calcium in your diet without adding much fat, see the “Selected calcium-rich foods” list below.

Selected calcium-rich foods

Food Calcium (mg)
Source: The 2004 Surgeon General’s Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis: What It Means to You. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2004, pages 12-13.
Fortified oatmeal, 1 packet 350
Sardines, canned in oil, with edible bones, 3 oz. 324
Cheddar cheese, 1½ oz. shredded 306
Milk, nonfat, 1 cup 302
Milkshake, 1 cup 300
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 1 cup 300
Soybeans, cooked, 1 cup 261
Tofu, firm, with calcium, ½ cup 204
Orange juice, fortified with calcium, 6 oz. 200–260 (varies)
Salmon, canned, with edible bones, 3 oz. 181
Pudding, instant (chocolate, banana, etc.) made with 2% milk, ½ cup 153
Baked beans, 1 cup 142
Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat, 1 cup 138
Spaghetti, lasagna, 1 cup 125
Frozen yogurt, vanilla, soft serve, ½ cup 103
Ready-to-eat cereal, fortified with calcium, 1 cup 100–1,000 (varies)
Cheese pizza, 1 slice 100
Fortified waffles, 2 100
Turnip greens, boiled, ½ cup 99
Broccoli, raw, 1 cup 90
Ice cream, vanilla, ½ cup 85
Soy or rice milk, fortified with calcium, 1 cup 80–500 (varies)

Calcium culprits

Although a balanced diet aids calcium absorption, high levels of protein and sodium (salt) in the diet are thought to increase calcium excretion through the kidneys. Excessive amounts of these substances should be avoided, especially in those with low calcium intake.

Lactose intolerance also can lead to inadequate calcium intake. Those who are lactose intolerant have insufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down the lactose found in dairy products. To include dairy products in the diet, dairy foods can be taken in small quantities or treated with lactase drops, or lactase can be taken as a pill. Some milk products on the market already have been treated with lactase.

Calcium supplements

If you have trouble getting enough calcium in your diet, you may need to take a calcium supplement. The amount of calcium you will need from a supplement depends on how much calcium you obtain from food sources. There are several different calcium compounds from which to choose, such as calcium carbonate and calcium citrate, among others. Except in people with gastrointestinal disease, all major forms of calcium supplements are absorbed equally well when taken with food.

Calcium supplements are better absorbed when taken in small doses (500 mg or less) several times throughout the day. In many individuals, calcium supplements are better absorbed when taken with food. It is important to check supplement labels to ensure that the product meets United States Pharmacopeia (USP) standards.

Vitamin D

The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Without enough vitamin D, one can’t form enough of the hormone calcitriol (known as the “active vitamin D”). This in turn leads to insufficient calcium absorption from the diet. In this situation, the body must take calcium from its stores in the skeleton, which weakens existing bone and prevents the formation of strong, new bone.

You can get vitamin D in three ways: through the skin from sunlight, from the diet, and from supplements. Experts recommend a daily intake of 600 IU (International Units) of vitamin D up to age 70. Men and women over age 70 should increase their uptake to 800 IU daily, which also can be obtained from supplements or vitamin D-rich foods such as egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and fortified milk. The Institute of Medicine recommends no more than 4,000 IU per day for adults. However, sometimes doctors prescribe higher doses for people who are deficient in vitamin D.

A complete osteoporosis program

Remember, a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is only one part of an osteoporosis prevention or treatment program. Like exercise, getting enough calcium is a strategy that helps strengthen bones at any age. But these strategies may not be enough to stop bone loss caused by lifestyle, medications, or menopause. Your doctor can determine the need for an osteoporosis medication in addition to diet and exercise.

The National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center acknowledges the assistance of the National Osteoporosis Foundation in the preparation of this publication.

For your information

This publication contains information about medications used to treat the health condition discussed here. When this publication was developed, we included the most up-to-date (accurate) information available. Occasionally, new information on medication is released.

For updates and for any questions about any medications you are taking, please contact:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Toll Free: 888-INFO-FDA (888-463-6332)

For additional information on specific medications, visit [email protected] at [email protected] is a searchable catalog of FDA-approved drug products.

NIH Pub. No. 18-7878-E

This post was updated in January 2019.

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, and the bone-building nutrients are essential to growth and bone health.

[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

Why Calcium Food Sources Matter

For the record, where you get calcium in food 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 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-containing foods.

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

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

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

1 ounce

306 mg

163 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 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 about calcium supplements should you have a child who isn’t meeting his needs.

Learn more about The Calcium Handbook:

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

Feeding little ones can feel overwhelming. From how long to breastfeed to what to offer for first table foods, the questions start early and they seem to never end. One common concern parents have is meeting daily calcium requirements for their little ones.

This is especially true for parents who have children with dairy allergies or intolerances, those who are unable to source healthy milk, or those who follow the Paleo diet. After all, the standard line most parents hear is to offer several servings of dairy per day to cover a child’s calcium needs or to offer calcium fortified foods like orange juice.

What do you do if dairy isn’t an option, or you prefer to eat real food nutrients and not fortified vitamins and minerals? As it turns out, there are plenty of real food non-dairy sources of calcium. Many of them also pack an extra nutritional punch that helps increase the body’s ability to use calcium.

The Basics of Calcium

Calcium is Critical for Growing Kids

Let’s start with why we worry so much about calcium intake. Calcium is a mineral. The human body does not produce minerals on it’s own so we must obtain all minerals from food or supplements.

If that’s the case for all minerals, why is calcium on the forefront of every pediatrician’s (and parent’s) mind? It’s because calcium plays a huge role in bone health. In fact, 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones.

For children, adequate calcium is essential for growing strong bones (and teeth). And bone mass in childhood is a determinant of bone health later in life. (source)

Given it’s importance to the human body (the remaining 1% is used for many critical functions), the National Institutes of Health provides a recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium based on age. The daily calcium requirements for children are:

  • 1 – 3 years: 700mg
  • 4 – 8 years: 1,000mg
  • 9 – 18 years: 1,300mg


But, It’s Not All About the Calcium

The conversation around calcium always seems to be about how much we are eating. At a recent well child visit for my toddler, I was given one piece of nutrition advice: to offer three to four servings of dairy per day now that our nursing relationship is coming to an end.

While three to four servings of dairy is sufficient calcium in milligrams to meet the recommended amount for my daughter’s age group, eating the right amount is only half of the story.

What is left out of the calcium conversation is talk about the body’s ability to use the calcium being consumed. Simply consuming the recommended amount of calcium does not necessarily mean that the body is able to put it to use.

You see, calcium is a game of cofactors. This can be said for all nutrients really, and it just means that calcium (or any nutrient) doesn’t act alone in the body. For optimal absorption and use of calcium in the body, certain other nutrients or states must be present.

  • Digestive health and a properly acidic stomach environment allows for breaking bonds and freeing calcium for absorption.
  • Vitamin D helps increases absorption of calcium through the GI tract so that it actually makes it into the body rather than excreted in urine/feces.
  • Good hydration allows the blood to be fluid enough to transport calcium efficiently throughout the body.
  • Fatty acids are needed to transport calcium across cell membranes. Good fats build strong cell membranes that allow nutrients to pass in and out of cell walls.
  • Other minerals must be in balance with calcium particularly, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. For example, magnesium regulates calcium to keep the heart pumping.

By offering a variety of real foods, children consume the vitamins, minerals, fats and other nutrients needed to optimally use calcium in the body. Less dietary calcium can go further when the cofactors are supported.

Calcium Rich Foods

Making the Most of Calcium from Dairy

Dairy (obviously) includes foods high in calcium. A four ounce glass of whole milk has 138 mg of calcium and one ounce of cheddar cheese has 202 mg. The cheese alone is almost one third of the recommended amount for a 1 – 3 year old.

If you have access to quality sources of dairy, especially real milk and fermented real milk products like kefir and cheese, and your child tolerates dairy well, it is a great source of calcium and other nutrients.

Real milk is not fortified and therefore does not contain as much vitamin D. Make sure to support the cofactors by offering a varied real food diet to ensure optimal calcium absorption and use. Wild caught salmon is a great source of calcium and vitamin D!

If you don’t have access to quality sources of dairy, I recommend skipping the milk and cheese and instead focusing on other real food sources of calcium. Not sure what to look for in dairy, or why conventional milk is not a healthy food for little ones? Read all about it right here.

Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

For those who need or prefer to stay dairy-free (or simply want to offer more food variety), below is a list of non dairy sources of calcium. Many of which are also rich in calcium cofactors. Remember that almost all real foods have some amount of calcium, which add up as part of your child’s total daily intake.

Suggested serving sizes are kid-sized.

Canned salmon with bones (232.5 mg in 3 ounces) and sardines (214 mg in 2 ounces). Seafood with bones has more calcium per serving than any dairy product. Seafood is a great source of fatty acids to support strong cellular walls and vitamin D for calcium absorption.

Blackstrap molasses (117 mg in 2 tsp) is not only high in calcium, but also in the cofactor minerals manganese, magnesium, and potassium. Use it as a sweetener, a substitute for brown sugar, or for syrup with grain-free pancakes.

Sesame seeds (87.8 mg in 1 tbsp) are a great source of calcium. Use them to make tahini for raw hummus or tahini dressing. Carrots (24 mg in 5 baby carrots) and celery (25.6 mg in 1 stalk) both have higher levels of calcium than many veggies and are great for dipping in hummus!

Legumes like white beans (93 mg in 1/4 cup dry) and garbanzo beans (52.5 mg in 1/4 cup dry) are high in calcium and the cofactor minerals as well. Make sure to properly prepare all legumes by soaking them before cooking.

Nuts are high in calcium, with almonds (60.5 mg in 1 ounce) being the highest. Coconut Almond Candy Bars are a great way to enjoy them for a treat.

Oranges (60.2 mg in one medium) are high in calcium and a food most kids are more than happy to eat. Dried figs (53.6 in for 4) are also a good source of calcium and can be enjoyed plain as a snack or simmered and pureed into a jelly.

Cruciferous veggies tend to be the higher in calcium. A few that my toddler will eat include kale (45 mg in 1/2 cup chopped raw) and broccoli (20.7 mg in 1/2 cup raw). If your little one has trouble with greens, have you tried a adding them to a smoothie?

Eggs (25 mg in one) have a decent amount of calcium and when pastured, they are high in cofactor vitamin D. Egg shells are incredibly high in calcium and I’ve seen recipes for egg shell calcium supplements.

Looking for a beverage source of calcium? Raw almond milk and coconut milk tonic are both high in calcium. Bone broth is also a mineral-rich food, though the exact amount of calcium available in homemade broth is not well known.

The Takeaway

Calcium is critical for children’s growth and long term health. But contrary to what we often hear, multiple servings of dairy is not the only way or even the best way to meet daily recommended amounts. Exposing your child to a varied real food diet, where they are offered plenty of calcium rich foods as well as foods high in cofactor nutrients, is the best way to meet calcium requirements.

Calcium for Toddlers: 7 Surprising Sources

You know calcium does your body good, but did you know that it’s crucial for your growing toddler too? Calcium is integral to building healthy bones, muscles and teeth. And because your child’s body is in prime bone-building (and muscle-building, and teeth-building) mode, now is the time to make sure she’s getting as much of this important mineral as possible.

How much calcium should you aim for in your tot’s diet? Kids ages 1 to 3 need 500 milligrams of calcium per day. That’s about two servings of dairy products daily (though remember that dairy is not the only food group that’s loaded with calcium). To help your toddler bone up on calcium, keep these tips in mind:

Dig into dairy. Two servings of dairy will easily add up to the 500 milligram daily goal of calcium for toddlers. Each of the following counts as one serving:

  • 1 cup of milk (either whole or low-fat milk based on your toddler’s needs). For an extra calcium kick, add two tablespoons of a powdered instant-breakfast mix.
  • 1 cup of yogurt
  • 1½ ounces of natural cheese, like cheddar or Swiss
  • 2 ounces of American cheese
  • 1 cup of ice cream or frozen yogurt

Sneak dairy onto the plate. Is your tot not a milk lover? There are still plenty of easy and delicious ways to hide calcium-loaded dairy in your child’s meals and snacks. Tricks to try:

  • Use milk in place of water when making hot chocolate, oatmeal, pudding and pancakes.
  • Blend yogurt into fruit smoothies.
  • Serve yogurt as a dip for sliced fruit.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheese onto vegetables, omelets, tacos and pasta.
  • Blend cheese into mashed potatoes or meatballs. It will add a creamy richness but your toddler won’t have to know why.

Move past milk. Is your child allergic to milk? Lactose intolerant? Simply milk averse? Offer these nonmilk sources of calcium to your tot:

More About Toddler Eating

Eating & Nutrition Best and Worst Drinks for Toddlers Eating & Nutrition Making Over Your Toddler’s Meals Eating & Nutrition 8 Ways to Pack Protein Into Your Child’s Diet Eating & Nutrition Best and Worst Drinks for Toddlers Eating & Nutrition Making Over Your Toddler’s Meals Eating & Nutrition 8 Ways to Pack Protein Into Your Child’s Diet

  • Calcium-fortified cereals and breads
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Calcium-fortified rice milk, soy milk or tofu
  • Oranges
  • Dark-green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, peas and collard greens. Note that spinach is touted as a great source of calcium for toddlers (a cup contains about 200 milligrams), but it’s also high in oxalic acid, which interferes with calcium absorption, so spinach’s calcium isn’t as available as that in other greens.
  • Beans

Learn labels. Get familiar with nutrition label lingo. To tell if a product is a good source of calcium for toddlers, look at the “% Daily Values” on food labels. The Daily Value (DV) stands for the recommended amount of a nutrient that an adult should get each day. Even though the DV corresponds to an adult’s needs (the DV for calcium for adults is 1,000 milligrams), you can still get a sense of how rich a product is in calcium for toddlers by keeping an eye on that food’s “% Daily Value.” For example, a food that provides 5 percent of the DV for calcium in a serving is a low-calcium food; foods that provide 10 percent are considered “good”; those supplying 20 percent or more are an “excellent” source of calcium.

Don’t forget about D. Without vitamin D, the body can’t absorb calcium. That makes vitamin D just as important as calcium for toddlers. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children get 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. One way to make sure your toddler gets her quota is by allowing her to get a little sun (our skin makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays). But before you send your tiny tot outside to soak for hours at a stretch, know that just a few minutes of sun exposure each day should do the trick. Or you can make sure your toddler eats foods that are rich in vitamin D, including:

  • Milk (most brands are fortified with 100 IU of vitamin D per cup)
  • Many cereals
  • Some orange juice
  • Some yogurt

Foods that naturally contain vitamin D include:

  • Beef
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolk


Children grow at a rapid pace and require a nutritionally adequate diet that supports this rapid growth. Calcium plays an important role in the growing up years and knowledge about calcium rich foods for babies and toddlers is essential for parents.

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Calcium is an important mineral that supports bone and teeth development.

Not just that calcium is also important for;

  1. Proper nerve function, sending and receiving nervous system signals
  2. Muscle function, proper muscle contract, on and relaxation
  3. Maintaining proper hormone levels in the body
  4. Needed for maintaining a normal heartbeat
  5. For clotting of blood


How much calcium does a child need?

1-3 yr olds 700 mg/day

4-8 yr olds 1000 mg/day

9-13 yr olds 1300 mg/day

14- 18 yr olds 1300mg/day


Babies get their calcium from breast milk or formula.

Babies younger than 6 months old need 200 mg of calcium a day and babies 6 to 11 months old need 260 mg of calcium a day.

Do note babies should only consume breast milk or formula. Do not give cow’s milk or any other animal milk to babies younger than 1 year of age.



Once babies start solids including foods rich in calcium is important. Though cow milk or any other milk should be avoided under age 1, other milk products like yogurt and low salt cheese like paneer can be started gradually by 8-9 months of age.

Here is a list of calcium rich foods for kids for your reference:

  1. Milk and Milk products

Cows milk, buffalo milk, goat milk can be started after 1 year of age.

Whole fat cows milk is recommended until age 2

Calcium content:

Cows milk (2% ) contains about 120 mg calcium/100ml

Goat Milk contains about 134 mg calcium /100 ml

Buffalo Milk contains about 210 mg /100 ml

Other milk products to try with babies 8-9 months and older.

Fresh homemade curd 149 mg /100 gm

Paneer 200mg /100 gms

Cheese 721 mg /100 gms

source: USDA and IAP

Though with paneer and cheese caution should be exercised. These foods are high in saturated fats and sodium, limit intake to 1-2 cubes of paneer at a time and small portions of grated cheese as toppings on foods for toddlers.

When buying cheese avoid processed cheese and look for natural hard cheeses containing minimal salt.

  1. Soy

Soy in the form of fortified soymilk, tofu set in calcium sulfate, edamame, tempeh can be included in the toddler’s diet in various ways to increase calcium intake.

Tofu can contain about 200 mg/100 gms of calcium depending on how it’s prepared.

Food ideas: Sauteed tofu, tofu chilly, tofu scramble, curries with tofu/soy nuggets added as a meat replacement.

  1. Broccoli & certain dark green vegetables

Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and dark green leaves like kale, collard greens, spinach leaves, turnip leaves, amaranth leaves, and watercress are all great sources of calcium. When it comes to green vegetables it is important to mix it up and try different combinations.

Food ideas: Broccoli paratha, broccoli patty, watercress salad, add kale to pesto, amaranth leaves to paratha, Broccoli dosa wraps.

  1. Ragi (Finger Millet)

Millets like ragi are traditional first foods for babies in India. Ragi is a rich source of calcium at about 344 mg/100 gms. It’s an easy to digest for babies, gluten-free and a super nutritious grain for children. Here is a post I wrote recently on why millets are good for babies.

Food ideas: Ragi porridge for babies, ragi pancakes for toddlers, ragi dosas, ragi idlis, ragi, and whole wheat chappati.

  1. Beans and Lentils

Beans like white beans, baked beans, kidney beans (rajma), chickpeas, and lentils like black gram dal (urad dal), pigeon peas (tuvar dal), bengal gram (chana dal ) are calcium rich foods for babies.

The Indian diet uses these beans and lentils in very effective combinations to make some lip-smacking foods. It’s hard not to enjoy beans and lentils in our part of the word, and it’s just an added bonus that these superfoods are some of the best sources of vegetarian protein, iron, and calcium.

Food ideas: In vegetarian side dishes, dals, lentil and bean soups, hummus, bean parathas, curries, khichdi (rice and lentil dish), bean chilly, baked beans on toast. Here are some lentil recipes for toddlers.

  1. Sesame seeds

100 gms of sesame seeds contain up to 975 mg of calcium! While one cannot consume sesame seeds in such a large amount, it makes sense to include some sesame seeds to homemade hummus, tahini and use sesame seeds in ladoos or energy balls.

Food ideas: As part of energy bars and energy balls, tahini, hummus.

Add a tablespoon of tahini to your toddlers morning oats porridge, or use tahini as a dipping sauce for cut veggies.

Date And Sesame Bliss Balls

  1. Almonds

Nuts are a good source of calcium, but among nuts, the highest calcium content is in almonds at 248 mg/100 gms.

Food ideas: Almond nut powder on porridge, almond butter with whole wheat crackers or chapati, or almonds in pesto sauce.

  1. Green peas

Green peas contain about 25 mg of calcium/100 gms. They can easily be added to a number of dishes or used as a side making them a versatile vegetable to work with.

Food ideas: Green peas patty, added to rice dishes, added to upma, poha.

  1. Amaranth

Amaranth (rajgira) is used in many traditional Indian recipes. Both the leaf and the grains are considered nutritious. Of particular importance is the amount of calcium in Amaranth at 159 mg/100gms. The grains need to be sprouted for 2-3 days in order to reduce the antinutrients present in them. Once sprouted you can use or cook amaranth similar to a rice or couscous dish.

Traditionally amaranth flour is used to make ladoos in Indian homes.

Food ideas: As porridge, in soups and stews, amaranth flour ladoos, in salads or as amaranth patty.

Amaranth Ladoo Recipe

  1. Okra

You may be surprised to find this vegetable on the list but Okra contains about 82 mg/100 gm of vegetable. That’s a good amount of calcium per serving. Okra is a commonly used vegetable in Indian homes with most kids loving Indian okra dishes.



Traditionally cows milk is looked at as the main source of calcium, but it is important to include a variety of calcium rich solid foods in the child’s diet. Some children may not like the taste of milk, while some may have milk allergies.

When parents only look to milk as an option for calcium it can lead to other problems like force-feeding, adding sugary syrups/powders to make milk taste good which in turn promotes a liking for more engineered foods with artificial colors and flavorings over natural flavors of whole foods.

Milk and milk products are also high in saturated fats and consuming these in large amounts increases the risk of childhood obesity.

Toddlers by nature eat very little which makes it vitally important to include calcium rich solid foods instead of filling them up on liquids like milk.

One of the side effects of drinking too much milk is an increased risk of developing childhood anemia. Calcium rich foods are known to hinder absorption of iron rich foods. Limiting milk intake to 2 cups a day for toddlers is recommended.

To summarize for you, milk provides good amounts of calcium, but should not be looked at as the only source of calcium for kids. Try and incorporate a variety of calcium rich solid foods alongside milk in the child’s daily diet.

In the case of lactose intolerance or dairy allergies look for fortified foods like fortified plant milk, calcium fortified cereals and the other non-dairy calcium rich foods that I mentioned above in order to meet the daily recommendations of calcium in the child’s diet.



It is not necessary to offer fruit juices to children for nutrition. Once in a while consumption is okay.

Fruit juices do not contain fiber, are high in sugars, and cause damage to teeth when consumed regularly. Besides, filling up on liquids is never a good thing for little kids. Liquid foods take up stomach space and create a feeling of fullness. The toddler fills up on liquid food with minimal nutrition and ends up not eating lunch/dinner or other solid foods that provide a wider variety of nutrients.

The occasional orange juice is definitely an option to get some calcium in. Some brands add Vit D to the orange juice too which helps in better absorption of calcium. But these types of juices are not something that needs to be incorporated into the daily diet.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced in recent guidelines on juice, that children under one year of age should not drink juice at all and for older kids limit juice consumption to very small quantities. (source)

Thus, when incorporated judiciously to the child’s diet, calcium-fortified foods like orange juice have some benefits, but should not be looked at as a daily source of the calcium nutrient.


How to ensure the child gets enough calcium?

Other than including the list of calcium rich foods for babies and toddlers mentioned above, try and include some of these alternative sources of calcium to the child’s diet.

Sweet potato

At 30 mg calcium/100 gms, sweet potato is a great way to add more calcium to the diet of babies and toddlers.

Food ideas: sweet potato as stuffing in parathas, baked sweet potato fries, sweet potato fritters.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk offers about 16 mg of calcium /100 ml

Food ideas: Add to curries, cook porridge in coconut milk, smoothies with coconut milk.

Dried figs

Dried figs are one of the best dried fruits for calcium. 2 medium sized dried figs contain about 27 mg of calcium. While it is not advisable to offer large amounts of dried frigs to kids because of its high sugar content, it still makes for a significant amount of calcium that can be easily added as a topping to any food to boost nutrient content.

Food ideas: Most children love dried figs, you can easily chop them up in appropriate sizes and add to porridge, smoothies or in energy bars.

Sprouted legumes, seeds, grains.

Sprouting of legumes, seeds, and grains increases the nutritive value of the food, by increasing bioavailability of nutrients. Sprouting not only increases calcium content in the beans but also reduces some of the antinutrients like phytic acid that block absorption. Most common sprouts are alfalfa sprouts, mung bean sprouts and other varieties of bean sprouts.

Vit D + Exercise

Other important points to consider when thinking of increasing calcium content in your child’s diet is to include Vit D rich foods (egg yolks, mushrooms, and oily fish) and time in the sun (early morning and evenings) engaged in play both of which are essential for calcium absorption.

Vit D + Exercise along with calcium rich foods makes strong bones.

There you go,

I hope this information helps you as you plan those calcium rich meals for your kids. Which calcium rich foods does your toddler enjoy? Do you have a special recipe to share? Leave me a comment below.

Calcium. (2017). Available at: .

The Relationship Between Cow’s Milk and Stores of Vitamin D and Iron in Early Childhood. (2012). PEDIATRICS, 131(1), pp.X29-X29.


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