Very helpful advice on making calcium a staple in your little one’s diet –

Milk and other calcium-rich foods have always been a must-have in kids’ diets. After all, calcium is a key building block for strong, healthy bones. But most kids ages 9 to 18 don’t get the recommended 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day.

That’s not surprising when you consider that many kids now drink more soda than milk, which is one of the best sources of calcium. And teens who smoke or drink soda, caffeinated beverages, or alcohol may get even less calcium because those substances interfere with the way the body absorbs and uses calcium.

But at every age, from infancy to adolescence, calcium is one nutrient that kids simply can’t afford to skip.

What Calcium Does

During childhood and adolescence, the body uses the mineral calcium to build strong bones — a process that’s all but complete by the end of the teen years. Bone calcium begins to decrease in young adulthood and progressive loss of bone occurs as we age, particularly in women.

Teens, especially girls, whose diets don’t provide the nutrients to build bones to their maximum potential are at greater risk of developing the bone disease osteoporosis, which increases the risk of fractures from weakened bones.

Younger kids and babies with little calcium and vitamin D intake (which aids in calcium absorption) are at increased risk for rickets. Rickets is a bone-softening disease that causes severe bowing of the legs, poor growth, and sometimes muscle pain and weakness.

Calcium plays an important role in muscle contraction, transmitting messages through the nerves, and the release of hormones. If blood calcium levels are low (due to poor calcium intake), calcium is taken from the bones to ensure normal cell function.

When kids get enough calcium and physical activity during childhood and the teen years, they can start out their adult lives with the strongest bones possible. For optimal bone health, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends:

1 to 3 years old — 700 milligrams of calcium daily

4 to 8 years old — 1000 milligrams

9 to 18 years old — 1,300 milligrams

Getting enough calcium is just part of the equation. Kids from 1 to 18 years old also should get 600 IU of vitamin D daily. If you don’t think your kids are getting the nutrients needed, talk to your doctor about modifying their diet or using vitamin supplements.

Good Sources of Calcium

Of course, milk and other dairy products are good sources of calcium, and most contain added vitamin D, which is also important for bone health.

But don’t overlook the many other healthy calcium-fortified foods, including orange juice, soy products, and bread. Here are some dairy and nondairy products that provide quite a bit of this vital nutrient:

Serving Size Food or Beverage Calcium

8 ounces (237 milliliters) milk 300 milligrams

8 ounces (237 milliliters) calcium-fortified orange juice 300 milligrams

2 ounces (57 grams) American cheese 300 milligrams

1½ ounces (43 grams) cheddar cheese 300 milligrams

4 ounces (113 grams) tofu fortified with calcium 260 milligrams

6 ounces (177 milliliters) yogurt 225 milligrams

½ cup (118 milliliters) collard greens

(cooked from frozen) 178 milligrams

4 ounces (113 grams) ice cream, soft serve 120 milligrams

½ cup (118 milliliters) white beans 110 milligrams

1 ounce (28 grams) almonds 80 milligrams

½ cup (118 milliliters) bok choy 80 milligrams

½ cup (118 milliliters) rhubarb, cooked 75 milligrams

4 ounces (113 grams) cottage cheese 70 milligrams

½ cup (118 milliliters) red beans 40 milligrams

½ cup (118 milliliters) broccoli, cooked 35 milligrams

Click Calcium and Your Child to read the full article.