We know calcium is essential for our growing toddlers and children to help build healthy strong bones and teeth. With our main calcium source in the diet coming from dairy products it can be very challenging meeting requirements on a diary free diet.
How to boost your child’s calcium intake on a dairy free diet
Several studies have shown that the majority of children on dairy free diets are consuming inadequate amounts of calcium with negative effects on bone mineral density (1, 2, 3). So how much calcium does your child need and what foods should you be including in their diet?
Recommended daily intake of calcium
The best non-dairy calcium food options
Soy milk or other cereal milk with added calcium
My favourite substitute for growing toddlers and children on a dairy free diet is unsweetened calcium fortified soy milk. Soy milk nutritionally is the most similar to cow’s milk providing a good source of protein, fat and energy. When choosing a soy milk look for a brand with at least 120mg calcium per 100mL. Other plant based milks are also a good calcium alternative for children who also have a soy allergy or intolerance however more careful planning will be required to ensure they do not miss out on important nutrients such as protein. For children under two years of age ensure you choose a full fat variety.
Firm tofu which has been made with a calcium firming agent such as a calcium sulphate or calcium chloride is one of best plant based calcium sources. Half a cup of firm tofu will provide approximately 400mg of calcium. A great way to include tofu in the diet is added into a stir-fry.
Canned salmon and sardines
Both canned salmon and sardines provided you eat the bones are a great calcium rich option. A small can of salmon, drained (80g) contains approximately 200mg calcium and sardines 300mg. Try adding sardines onto toast, salmon as a sandwich filling or making up salmon patties for a tasty lunch or dinner.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds such as almonds, brazil nuts, chia seeds, poppy seeds and tahini (ground sesame seeds) contain small amounts of calcium. A 30g serve of almonds and walnuts provide 80mg and 45mg respectively, whilst 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds, chia seeds and tahini provide 160mg, 90mg and 65mg respectively. For children under 3 avoid giving whole nuts as they are a choking risk. Instead you could make a smooth nut butter or use ground almonds (e.g. almond meal) in baking. Seeds are also great added into baked goods, smoothies or breakfast cereals. Chia puddings are also a fantastic option for breakfast or a filling snack. You may also like to look at making some Coconut, Chia & Apricot balls.
Leafy greens contain small amounts of calcium. Rocket is one of the richest sources with 1 cup raw containing 120mg calcium. Other good options with 50-100mg calcium per serve include gai choy, kale, bok choy and watercress.
If you are looking for more ideas of how to boost nutrition of children with allergies or intolerances, you may find these clever tips useful.
- Mailhot G, Perrone V, Alos N et al. Cow’s Milk Allergy and Bone Mineral Density in Prepubertal Children. Paediatrics 2017; 137 (5), 1-8.
- Rowicka G, Strucińska M, Riahi A, et al. Diet and Nutritional Status of Children with Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy, Treated with a Milk-Free Diet. International Journal of Allergy Medications 2017; 3 (1), 1-8.
- Ambroszkiewicz A, Rowicka G, Chelchowska M, et al. Biochemical markers of bone metabolism in children with cow’s milk allergy. Archives of Medical Science 2014; 10 (6), 1135–1141
Melinda is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and founder of Lifestyle Nutrition, a private practice clinic based in Melbourne specialising in early life and paediatric nutrition.
Melinda enjoys being able to inspire, motivate and support families to better manage or overcome the nutritional issues in which they face with their children.
As a paediatric dietitian Melinda has a special interest in gut health, food intolerances and allergies.
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