One question I often encounter from Moms is regarding drinking milk: “My child doesn’t like milk, but if she doesn’t drink milk how is she going to get the calcium her body needs? Won’t her her bones become weak? What about her teeth? Is there any way to sneak milk into her food?” As you can see, it’s a series of endless questions about milk!
Moms of kids with lactose intolerance have more worries to deal with. They’ve probably learnt the hard way that their kids’ bodies can’t digest milk! Now that milk is out of the question, these Moms are on the lookout for alternate sources of calcium for their children. For such kids, it isn’t about a temporary dislike for the taste of milk; it’s about finding calcium sources that they can fall back on for the rest of their life.
Why do babies need calcium ?
All this concern about milk is not baseless; calcium is an essential nutritional requirement for babies. Calcium is required not only for the development of bones but is also essential for the growth and development of nerves and muscles.
Waiting for a child to grow older to start getting the requisite calcium intake is not enough. A baby’s bones are growing at a fast rate, and calcium is being deposited into multiplying bone cells continuously, and is responsible for holding the bones together. A good intake of calcium during the early childhood years translates into good strong bones in adult life.
Calcium Requirement for Infants
Studies show that the bio-availability of calcium from human milk is greater than that from infant formulas or cow’s milk¹. Hence, if your baby is exclusively formula fed your pediatrician is likely to recommend fortified formula for her.
Calcium requirements vary even within infants. Premature babies require more calcium to make up for what they missed out on in their mothers’ wombs. Such babies can rely on their mother’s milk that has been fortified or with formulas specially created for premature babies.
Calcium Requirement for Toddlers
The recommended dietary requirement of calcium for toddlers is 500- 700mg per day. Since by this age kids are eating most foods, the best way to get the required daily allowance is by having a varied and balanced diet including all the food groups. A diet based on healthy, natural food options will ensure that the child gets the full nutritional benefit of whatever he eats.
Calcium Requirement for Older Children
The requirement for calcium increases as the child grows older, with a sudden spike in the pre-pubertal and pubertal age group. Children of this age generally have gotten used to certain eating patterns and are over the picky eating stage. Although this age group is also prone to junk food consumption which can hamper the intake of the necessary nutrients essential for this fast-growth stage. Here is the recommended RDA of calcium for older children:
|4-8 years||1,000 mg|
|9-13 years||1,300 mg|
|14-18 years||1,300 mg|
Thinking beyond Dairy Sources
As most Moms know, relying only on milk to meet a child’s calcium needs will not work. Hence it becomes essential to know and understand other sources of dietary calcium before including them in a child’s diet.
|Food||Serving Size||Calcium Content|
|Milk†||1 cup||240 mL||300 mg|
|Low-fat yogurt||8 oz||240 g||300–415 mg|
|Cheddar cheese||1.5 oz||42 g||300 mg|
|White beans||½ cup||110 g||113 mg|
|Broccoli cooked||½ cup||71 g||35 mg|
|Broccoli raw||1 cup||71 g||35 mg|
|Spinach cooked‡||½ cup||90 g||120 mg|
|Spinach raw‡||1½ cup||90 g||120 mg|
|Orange||1 medium||1 medium||50 mg|
|Sardines or salmon with bones||20 sardines||240 g||50 mg|
|Sweet potatoes||½ cup mashed||160||44|
* Adapted from Raper et al,37Weaver,38,39 and Weaver and Plawecki.40
↵† Low-fat milk has comparable or greater calcium levels than whole milk.
↵‡ The calcium from spinach is essentially nonbioavailable.
This table shows the typical amounts of calcium for common food sources. The largest source of dietary calcium for a large part of the population are milk and dairy products. However, other sources of calcium are just as important, especially for achieving a calcium intake of 1200 to 1500 mg/day.
The bio-availability of calcium from vegetables is generally high, an exception being spinach. Spinach is high in oxalate, making the calcium virtually non bio-available. Some high-phytate foods, such as whole bran cereals, may also have poorly bio-available calcium.³
15 Sources of Calcium other than Milk
1.White Soya Beans
Soya beans or soy beans are a great way for vegetarian or vegan babies to get not just their required calcium intake, but a good amount of protein or iron as well. Soy milk can be made by cooking whole soy beans in water and straining the cooked beans with a muslin cloth to separate the milk from the fiber. A cup of soy milk contains more than 60 mg of calcium.
Soy Milk Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
2. Salmon or Fish with Bones
Besides being a good source of calcium at 232 mg in an adult serving, salmon is an excellent source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and selenium. It also contains good amounts of niacin, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, phosphorus, and vitamin B6.
Salmon Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
Almonds are known for their brain boosting benefits, but they’re also an excellent source of calcium at a whopping 264 mg per 100 gm. They also help in eveloping immunity and fighting inflammation.
Almond Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
Fresh figs contain 26 mg of calcium in 100 gm and are a fiber rich food as well. They are great for easing constipation and help to develop babies’ immature immune systems.
Fig Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
5. Sesame seeds
A tablespoon of sesame seeds contains 88 mg of calcium, making it a good and easy way to get the RDA of calcium in one’s diet. These seeds pack quite a punch and they also lower blood pressure and fight inflammation.
Sesame Seed Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
6. Okra or Ladies Finger
Okra, also known as ladies finger or bhindi, is extremely common in India and is widely eaten. A 100 gm of okra contains 82 mg of calcium, making it an easy food to include in the Indian diet. The ‘slimy’ consistency and the presence of seeds can prove a challenge when feeding to younger babies, but older babies can handle them better.
Okra Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
7. Amaranth Flour
Amaranth flour is one of the most protein rich gluten free grains out there, and is an ideal choice if your child has a gluten intolerance. Just half a cup contains 150 gm of calcium, along with other essential minerals like magnesium and iron.
Amaranth Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
Tofu is a dairy free answer to traditional cottage cheese or paneer. With 861 mg of calcium in just half a cup, tofu is a protein-rich, low fat alternative to milk or cheese for your baby’s calcium requirements.
Tofu Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
Sardines come under the healthy ‘oily’ fish category, known for their high content of Omega 3 fatty acids that help brain development in kids. 7 fillets of sardines contain 321 mg of calcium, in addition to a good amount of Vitamin D, also crucial for healthy bones.
Sardines Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
Papayas are a good fruit source of calcium, with 100 g giving you about 20 mg of the mineral. Papayas are also rich in Vitamins A and C along with other trace minerals like potassium and copper.
Papaya Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
Oranges are known for their high Vitamin C content, but that’s not all it contains. With 65 mg of calcium in a single fruit, these are a great way for children to get their calcium requirements, even if it is through plain orange juice.
Orange Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
Broccoli has divided opinions among kids with some loving it and others detesting it. But with 47 mg calcium in 100 g, broccoli can’t be ignored for long. Moms can disguise the vegetable in various dishes to ensure their kids get the most out of this superfood.
Broccoli Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
Kale is usually considered a ‘diet food’, having become hugely popular among dieters. However, with 188 mg of calcium in 2 cups, kale is a force to reckon with.
Kale Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
14. Green Beans
Green beans are very versatile vegetables and pack in a lot of nutrients as well. Along with 37 mg of calcium in a 100 gm of beans, they also contain good amounts of Vitamin K, manganese and fiber.
Green Beans Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
As we mentioned above, spinach is a very healthy food with 115 mg of calcium in just half a cup, but the presence of oxalic acid interferes in the absorption of this calcium resulting in a low bio-availability.
Spinach Recipes for Babies and Toddlers:
With such an exhaustive list, you can be sure your kids will not be deficient in calcium anymore! Let them eat the foods they like from this list, and as long as it’s balanced across the course of a week, it’s okay if they skip it at times. Just include these in their diet and watch them jump and play with strong bones!
Do you have difficulty feeding your child milk? Which of these foods is she likely to eat?
- Fomon SJ, Nelson SE. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfur. In: Fomon SJ. Nutrition of Normal Infants. St Louis, MO: Mosby–Year Book, Inc; 1993:192–218
- American Academy of Paediatrics – Calcium requirement for Infants, toddlers and adolescents