Foods containing calcium

My three year old has never liked milk but loves cheese and yogurt. How do I know if she is getting enough calcium? Should I try her on Soya or just make sure she is getting a lot of yogurt and cheese?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Dear Monique,

Your daughter can get plenty of calcium without drinking milk. All you need is a knowledge of what foods are a good source of calcium, and how much calcium. Once you know that, then eventually, making sure she gets enough calcium will become intuitive. From the sounds of your letter, it seems like you already know where to find some alternatives to calcium.

Actually, drinking milk is just the easy way to know that a child is getting the calcium they need, because it is easy to see how many glasses a day they have drunk. But once you are familiar with the amount of equivalent calcium sources, that will be just as easy too. First off, you need to know that your daughter needs about 800 milligrams of calcium a day. Don't worry too much about daily ingestion, some days will be less,others more. Just average it out over the course of a few days. Here are a few figures of some high calcium containing foods:

1 cup of milk = 250mg. Ca.
1 cup yogurt = 250 mg. Ca.
1 cup custard = 250mg. Ca.
1 ounce Swiss or Parmesan cheese = 250mg. Ca.
1/2 cup ricotta cheese = 250mg. Ca.
1 cup cooked collards or dandelion greens = 250 mg. Ca.
1 ounce cheddar or Muenster cheese = 200mg. Ca.
3 ounces canned salmon with bones = 150 mg. Ca.
1 cup cooked spinach = 150 mg. Ca.
1 ounce feta or mozzarella cheese = 150mg. Ca.
1 med. stalk broccoli = 100 mg. Ca.
1 Tbs. blackstrap molasses = 100mg. Ca.
3.5 ounces tofu = 100 mg. Ca.
1 cup cottage cheese = 100mg. Ca.

Of course cooking with any of these items will increase the calcium content of the foods she eats. For example, baking with molasses as a sweetener, using milk as the cooking liquid instead of water, making her hot cereal with milk instead of water or juice, serving lots of puddings, adding dry powdered milk wherever you can, such as in meatloafs, muffins, breads, cookies, casseroles.

If you find that she is consistently falling significantly below her need for calcium, you may try one of the calcium fortified soy or rice drinks. Knowing that she needs 800 mg./day, you can figure how many milligrams she is getting in a cup of those liquids by multiplying the % Daily Value they supply (see the nutrition panel) by 800, (an average adult also needs about 800mg/day).

You can feel very lucky that your three year old loves yogurt and cheese. They are great source of calcium as well as other nutrients. So many parents write to me in distress because their child won't eat any dairy product, and the thought of 5 cups of cooked spinach a day is even worse! You can relax, and just sit back and let her enjoy that yogurt and cheese.

Thanks for writing.

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