I hated milk when I was a kid. I mean, the thought of drinking a glass of that creamy white stuff totally grossed me out, so I can relate to the kids who don’t like milk. However, I also understand how concerning it can be for a parent when their kids won’t drink milk, because you start to worry that your child isn’t getting enough calcium and that their bone health is going to suffer for it.
This is an incredibly common concern for parents today, whether your kids decide they don’t like milk, or they’ve been diagnosed with a milk allergy or dairy intolerance and drinking milk is no longer an option.
If you’re in that boat today, here’s what you should know. Yes, kids do need plenty of calcium, and not getting enough of it in their daily diet can be genuinely dangerous for their bone health. But, there are plenty of other ways for kids to get all the calcium they need without ever having to touch a glass of milk.
You may have to get a little creative, but don’t worry – I’ve provided everything you need to know about calcium in childhood, along with fifty simple and tasty food ideas for you to try with your kids, no milk required!
What is calcium?
Calcium is a mineral that is stored primarily in our bones and teeth, making them sturdy and strong. It’s an essential mineral, which means that our bodies can’t make it, so we need to get it from food.
In addition to strengthening bones and teeth, calcium also helps muscles, nerves and some hormones work properly in our bodies. These other functions are crucial for our survival, so if we consume too little calcium and the level of calcium in our blood gets too low, our crazy smart bodies will actually pull calcium out of our bones to meet those other needs. As you can imagine, eating too little calcium can result in drastically weakened bones over time.
Why is calcium so important during childhood?
The reason that calcium is so crucial in childhood, is that those are the years during which bones are being built and strengthened. Did you know that we can actually only build bone into very early adulthood? We want kids to reach their peak bone strength during childhood and adolescence so that their bones are able to remain strong during their adult life.
How much calcium does my child need?
Here’s about how much calcium your child needs each day, based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium.
- 1-3 years: 700 mg (about 2-3 servings)
- 4-8 years: 1,000 mg (about 3-4 servings)
- 9-18 years: 1,300 mg (about 4 servings)
Now, there’s no need to count milligrams of calcium in your child’s diet. That would drive you crazy! Just try to be conscious of how many servings your child consumes on average, and that will help you to know if they’re on the right track.
Calcium-rich Foods for Kids Who Don’t Like Milk
One cup of milk provides a serving of calcium (or about 300 milligrams), but for kids who don’t like milk (or can’t drink milk), there are plenty of other foods (both dairy and non-dairy) that will provide all the calcium they need. Try some of these calcium-rich foods in place of milk.
- Soy Milk
- Almond Milk
- Cashew Milk
Other Dairy Products
- Cheese or cheese stick
- Cottage cheese
- Ice cream
- Swiss chard
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- White beans
- Pinto beans
- Garbanzo beans (chick peas)
Nuts & Seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Calcium-fortified orange juice
- Calcium-fortified cereals and instant oatmeals
If you’d like more specific information on how much calcium these foods contain, check out this table that shows the amount of calcium found in a variety of foods.
If you need to, get creative!
Remember, none of these foods have to be consumed by themselves. Try mixing up your kids’ usual routine with some of these fun and tasty ideas!
- Mix yogurt, milk, or milk alternative into a smoothie
- Add leafy greens like spinach or kale to a smoothie
- Mix fruit or applesauce with cottage cheese
- Make homemade ranch dip with yogurt (and dip broccoli in it!)
- Freeze yogurt into popsicles
- Make an almond butter and jelly sandwich
- Use almonds in a homemade trail mix
- Add broccoli or greens to egg muffins, like these broccoli cheddar egg muffins
- Use white beans in a bean dip or salsa
- Make your own hummus with chick peas
- Add roasted almonds and sunflower seeds to homemade granola
- Mix shredded cheese into casseroles, quesadillas, pasta dishes, and more
- Make chocolate milk ice cubes to flavor milk or other beverages
- Cook broccoli or leafy greens into a casserole or pasta dish
- Make calcium-fortified instant oatmeal with milk (or milk alternative) instead of water
- Use canned salmon to make fish cakes (in place of crab cakes)
- Replace tuna in tuna noodle casserole with canned salmon
- Toss some tofu into your next stir fry
- Offer cheese and crackers for a snack
- Make a grilled cheese sandwich
- Roast kale with olive oil and salt to make crunchy kale chips
- Serve calcium-fortified breakfast cereal with a cup of milk
- Make hot chocolate with milk (or milk alternative) instead of water
What should I do if I’m concerned my child isn’t getting enough calcium?
If you’ve made an effort to increase your child’s calcium intake through a variety of foods and still feel like they aren’t getting close to the recommended amount of calcium for their age, you should speak to your pediatrician. They may recommend the addition of a children’s calcium supplement or suggest you meet with a Registered Dietitian.
As you can see, while it’s definitely crucial that your kids get enough calcium, it doesn’t have to be difficult! For kids who don’t like milk, there are plenty of other foods to choose from that will provide all the calcium they need. Try adding a few new high-calcium foods to your child’s day and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how quickly it all adds up.