Calcium is a mineral that is mostly present in your child's bones. Having a diet with foods that are high in calcium to meet daily requirements is necessary for the development of strong bones. It is also an important way to prevent the development of osteoporosis in adults.
Toddlers (age 1-3 years) require about 500mg of calcium each day (about 2 glasses of milk).
Preschool and younger school age children (age 4-8 years) require about 800 mg of calcium each day (about 3 glasses of milk).
Older school age children and teens (age 9-18 years) require about 1300 mg of calcium each day. This higher level of calcium is especially important once they begin puberty (about 4 glasses of milk).
Since milk has a lot of calcium in it, children who routinely drink milk each day usually easily meet their daily requirements of calcium. Children with milk allergies or who just don't like milk are a little more of a challenge to meet these requirements, but it is still easy if you learn to read food labels.
See the table below for the calcium content of common foods and check the nutrition label to choose foods high in calcium when you prepare your families diet. Also choose foods that are fortified with calcium.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently changed their recommendation for Vitamin D supplements for kids, which may affect kids who do not drink much milk. The AAP now advises that, to prevent rickets and Vitamin D deficiency, children will need a supplement with 200 IU of Vitamin D each day if they are exclusively breastfed or not drinking at least 500ml (17 ounces) of Vitamin D fortified milk or infant formula. Older children and teens who do not get regular sunlight exposure and who do not drink at least 500ml of Vitamin D fortified milk each day will also need a supplement.
On food labels, the calcium content is usually represented as a percentage, such as 4%, 15% or 30%, etc. What does that percentage mean? It is the percentage of the daily value of calcium that you would get by eating one serving of the particular food and it uses 1000mg as 100% daily value. So, if a food label that says that it has 30% calcium has 30% x 1000, or 300mg.
Since younger children don't need 1000 mg, instead of adding up the percentages of the foods they eat, add up the mg to get close to the daily requirements described above. And keep in mind that older kids need more than 100% DV. With a daily requirement of 1300 mg, they instead need 130% DV of calcium.
In addition to actually reading the nutrition label, you can also find foods that are good sources of calcium by looking for the following terms on the packaging:
- "High in Calcium, "Rich in Calcium" or "Excellent Source of Calcium," are found on foods that have at least 20% daily value of calcium or 200mg (and often up to 30-35% calcium).
- "Contains Calcium," "Provides Calcium" or "Good Source of Calcium," are found on foods that have at least 10-19% daily value of calcium or 100-190mg.
- "Calcium Enriched", "Calcium-Fortified" or have "More Calcium." are found on foods that have more than 10% daily value of calcium as compared to similar foods without as much calcium. So, if you have two type of orange juice and one has 4% calcium and another has 15% daily value of calcium, then the one with more calcium can say the it is calcium enriched or fortified.
So choose food products that are high in calcium to get your child the calcium he needs. And compare food labels to choose brands or types of foods that have a higher percentage of the daily value of calcium.
Some good choices, include:
- Golden Grahams cereal - 350mg per 3/4 cup
- calcium fortified soy milk - 300mg per cup
- Iron Kids bread - 160mg per slice (you might look for a whole wheat bread with calcium though)
- yoo-hoo chocolate drink - 250mg per 8 oz serving (a good source of calcium, but not a very healthy choice)
- Danimals low fat yogurt - 150mg per cup
- Honey Maid Graham Crackers (look for the ones that say 'Now a good source of calcium) - 150mg in 2 crackers
- Quaker Fruit & Oatmeal Bites - 200mg per serving
- Nestle Carnation Instant Breakfast mix - adds 250mg of calcium to a glass of milk, boosting its calcium content to over 500mg
When looking at different brands and flavors of orange juice, you can see why reading food labels is so important. Some will have 0% daily value of calcium, while other flavors of juice, even of the same brand, can have up to 35% or 350mg.
What about vitamins? Many parents think that their child is getting enough calcium if they are getting a 'complete' daily multivitamin. Examining the label of these 'complete' vitamins shows that they usually only have about 75-100mg of calcium. For a school age child, that would only be about 9-12% of their daily requirement. There are vitamins with higher calcium levels, often up to 20% daily value of calcium or 200mg, but you will have to read the label to find them, and they won't provide enough calcium for your child if they are your child's main source of calcium.
There is a new calcium vitamin that has 500mg of calcium. It is the One A Day Kids Scooby Doo Calcium Chews, which look and taste like a tootsie roll candy and most kids should like taking. This vitamin does contain 'dried milk solids' and so is not a good choice for kids with a milk allergy.
Tums and adult type calcium supplements, like Viactiv, provide 500mg of calcium per serving, and may be good options for older kids with your Pediatrician's approval.