Calcium rich foods for kids help ensure proper bone growth and development, plus a whole lot more.
We’ve all heard the slogans about calcium’s role in the body from child nutrition campaigns and dairy advertisements. As a pediatric nutritionist, I know parents understand how important calcium is to kids’ health. Maybe you’re a little skeptical about the push to get kids to drink milk.
Do kids have to drink milk to get calcium?
Does calcium actually keep the bones strong?
Do kids really need that much calcium and wouldn’t they get enough from a balanced diet with lots of veggies rich in calcium?
Let me say this loud and clear: I believe calcium-rich foods are required in a child’s diet. Those little bones are growing and bone-building nutrients are essential to this process.
In this article, you’ll learn why kids need calcium, the foods rich in calcium for kids, how much calcium is in milk, and how you can ensure your child gets enough.
How Much Calcium Do Children Need?
The body stores calcium in the bones because too much calcium in the bloodstream isn’t a good thing for the heart.
When your child gets calcium from food, it’s deposited into the bones making them grow and get stronger.
So how much calcium do children need?
The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for calcium in children according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is as follows:
Why Foods Rich in Calcium for Kids Matter
Lack of dietary calcium is one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in children. Statistical data indicates boy aged 9-13 and girls from 9 to 18 years are at the highest risk for calcium inadequacies. Even when we look at intake from both food and supplements, teen girls in particular, still fall short.
Foods containing calcium often carry other important nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin A, and protein, for instance. When you choose calcium-based foods for your family, you’re also helping everyone get closer to a nutrient-rich diet.
Dairy foods such as milk and yogurt are excellent sources of calcium but there’s a variety of other calcium-containing foods.
A teen vegetarian may get all of his calcium from non-animal sources, or a child with a milk allergy may get calcium from calcium-fortified non-dairy foods.
Other families may prefer not to consume real milk, for whatever reason, and get their calcium from a variety of foods, like seeds or vegetables.
Do kids really need calcium foods like milk?
Look at your child’s medical circumstances, your family’s cultural practices, your child’s eating habits and food preferences (read: what he will eat), and other realities like your food budget when making nutrition decisions in your home.
They all play out differently for every family.
Milk may be part of a healthy diet, but dairy milk isn’t for everyone.
However, calcium is for every growing child. And that means calcium-containing foods.
Which Foods Have Calcium?
Milk is just one food that helps kids meet their calcium requirement.
Not only does 1 cup of milk have 310 mg of calcium, your child is also getting many other important bone nutrients, such as protein, vitamin D, and potassium.
In a study of children 2-18 years old, milk was the primary source of calcium, potassium, vitamin D in their diet.
But milk isn’t the only way to meet your child’s calcium needs.
The following calcium-rich foods list shows the variety of 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 so your child gets his total daily calcium requirement is up to you.
Calcium Rich Foods Chart
|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
|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|
What About Vegetables High in Calcium?
It’s no surprise that people ask about other foods, especially veggies rich in calcium such as broccoli and spinach.
There’s no doubt there are some veggies rich in calcium.
Take a look at the following vegetables with the highest amounts of calcium per cup, according to the USDA Nutrient Database.
- A cup of oriental radishes (730 mg)
- A cup of soybeans (500 mg)
- A cup of cooked collards (357 mg)
- A cup of turnip greens (250 mg)
Did you notice broccoli and spinach didn’t even make the list?
Let’s look at these vegetables for a comparison.
- 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.
Tip: Spinach needs to be cooked to be a notable source of calcium.
[Want to learn more about nutrition from vegetables? Read: 5 Types of Vegetables for Kids]
Can Your Child Meet His Calcium Needs From Vegetables?
First, let’s review calcium requirements again.
Young children need 1,000 mg/day.
Kids and teens require 1,300 mg/day.
It takes 23 cups of broccoli to equal 1,000 mg calcium!
That’s a lot of broccoli!
I’ve yet to meet a child who eats that much broccoli every day, and they’d probably get a tummy ache if they did.
You can combine a variety of vegetables and other calcium food sources to match the total daily calcium requirements, but this takes forethought and planning.
There’s another factor to consider before relying on vegetables to meet your child’s calcium needs: calcium’s bioavailability.
Bioavailability is the actual amount of calcium the body absorbs and uses from foods. Vegetables contain substances like oxalates and phytates, which interfere with calcium absorption and reduce the overall amount absorbed.
That means your child will get less calcium from those vegetables than the amount of calcium they contain.
The sources of calcium are up to you. Milk may not be for everyone but calcium is for every growing child.
Where is your child getting his calcium from?
If you’re looking for more help with planning a variety of calcium foods to ensure your child is growing strong, healthy bones, I’ve written a guidebook that digs into your child’s calcium requirements and how to meet them.
I consider the eating habits of children, make practical suggestions on how to balance the overall diet to encourage plenty of calcium. If you have a child who isn’t meeting his needs, I’ll help you with advice about calcium supplements.
Learn more about The Calcium Handbook and other handbooks for parents and tune in to my expert interview with Dr. Taylor Wallace on bone growth in children, on The Nourished Child® podcast and my article Whole Milk Nutrition Facts for Kids.
This post was updated from its original in June 2021.