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This week at Shelley’s Good Eats we are talking about all things calcium…and specifically why this little nutrient might deserve your attention when it comes to feeding your kids. We’ll also be discussing the important role calcium plays for your child’s bone health, calcium-rich food sources, how to maximise calcium absorption, and other important factors that contribute to your child’s bone health. 

Most of us know that calcium is super important for promoting healthy bones and teeth, especially for children’s growing bodies. However, it is not the only factor to consider when it comes to your kid’s bone health. In fact, vitamin D and physical activity, are also important factors that contribute to growing healthy bones in kids. Vitamin D is important for helping the calcium to be better absorbed in their intestines, and exercise helps to strengthen and support growing bones. 

Unlike most other vitamins, the main source of vitamin D is from daily sun exposure. In Australia, it is pretty easy to get your daily dose of vitamin D, though the amount of time spent in the sun does fluctuate between seasons and states. For this reason, we have attached a diagram below to give an indicator: 

vitamin D per state

Generally, the most cost-effective and easily absorbable source of calcium is dairy foods, though it is also possible to get your calcium requirements without incorporating diary into your kid’s diet. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends 1½–2 serves of dairy or alternatives a day for children up to 8 years old, and 2½–3½ serves a day for older children and adolescents. These servings are based on the average nutrient requirements for healthy children in these age groups, however, this amount can fluctuate.

* If you are wanting to gain a better understanding of the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the food groups, we will be writing another blog post in the future to cover this topic!

So what does one serve of dairy look like according to our guidelines?
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 slices of cheese (40 g)
  • ¾ cup (200g) of yoghurt 

* After the age of two, it is recommended to incorporate low-fat dairy options due to their saturated fat content (which we have discussed in our previous blog post, the truth about feeding your kids fats), though it is always good to be mindful of the added sugar contents. 

But what if my child doesn’t eat dairy, can they still get their calcium requirements?

When using alternative milk, yoghurt and cheese products in place of traditional dairy products, it is important to make sure that these contain at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml on their nutritional panel. Non-diary alternatives sources that contain the same amount of calcium as their dairy counterparts, according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines include: 

  • 1 cup calcium-fortified plant milk (soy)
  • 100g (½ cup) of almonds with the skin 
  • 75-80g (⅓ cup) of canned pink or Australian salmon with the bones 

There are also other foods such as seafood (especially mussels, oysters and prawns) and most plant foods (especially seeds, grain-based foods and green leafy vegetables), that contain smaller amounts of calcium. Some packaged foods, like cereals, also contain calcium due to fortification.

While these foods do contain certain amounts of calcium and are great to include in a healthy and balanced diet…you should not rely solely on these foods as a way to get your child’s daily dose of calcium. Instead, it is important to make sure you are incorporating the foods recommended above by the Australian Dietary Guidelines, diary or alternatives, alongside these other foods.  

Here at Shelley’s Good Eats, we know that it can be confusing for parents when it comes to knowing the best things to feed your kids. That’s why we have come up with a practical list of different ways to add these all-important calcium-rich foods into your child’s diet, as well as some recipe inspiration (of course!) 

  1. Try making some fun fruit skewers drizzled with traditional yoghurt or a calcium-fortified alternative (check out our yummy fruit skewer recipe for some inspiration
  2. Consider switching your child’s cereal to one fortified with calcium and pairing it with milk or a calcium-fortified alternative for an extra calcium boost 
  3. Try making some salmon patties with tinned pink salmon (bones and all!) for a perfect lunch-box treat (try out our tasty salmon pattie recipe, it’s sure to become a family fav)
  4. Blend up a yummy fruit smoothie with some milk and yoghurt (or alternatives) for a tasty breakfast with a twist (check out our awesome kid’s breakfast smoothie recipe)
  5. Go traditional for your kid’s snacks by adding some cheese (or alternatives) to some whole-grain crackers (the perfect creamy and crunch combo)
  6. Try adding some grated cheese (or alternatives) and dark leafy greens to your kid’s breakfast omelette for some added flavour and colour-pop

Making sure your kid’s get their calcium requirements doesn’t need to be stressful…we hope that this blog post has not only given you an appreciation of the importance of calcium when it comes to kid’s growing bodies…but that it has also armed you with some practical ways to easily incorporate calcium-rich foods into your kid’s diet. If you have any questions or feedback, we’d love to hear from you. 

-The Shelley’s Good Eats team

A bit about the Author

Hi my name is Karly. I am a 3rd year Nutrition student, studying on the beautiful Sunshine Coast. I work as an assistant at Shelley’s Good Eats, in-between my studies. As well as having a passion for all things nutrition, I also have a keen interest in sustainability. In the future, I would love to combine both of my passions and educate people in a dynamic and multifaceted way.