With the great variety of soft drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices available, fewer children may be drinking calcium-rich milk with meals these days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls calcium a "nutrient of concern" for American kids because low-calcium diets raise the risks for poor bone and teeth development and bone fractures. Steer your children away from broken bones and toward an adulthood of bone health by putting calcium and vitamin D foods on your daily menus.
Because calcium needs never quit, helping your kids form daily habits that include calcium foods or supplements will prepare them for every life stage. By age 18 or 20, their existing bone mass will have to carry them through maturity. Two important habits to instill are to drink 1 cup of milk three times a day and to choose 1 percent or fat-free milk for weight control. To encourage this healthy routine, join them in drinking low-fat milk with every meal.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development suggests that kids get 400 mg of calcium on top of the 900 mg provided by 3 cups of milk. Two scrambled eggs (100 mg of calcium), yogurt and fruit (450 mg of calcium) and calcium-fortified cereal (1,000 mg of calcium) offer 100 to 1,000 mg of calcium per serving. Bean and cheese tostadas and cheese enchiladas also are good calcium sources. Canned cream soups and cheeseburgers represent more family-friendly fare for building healthy bones and teeth. Serve healthy cut-up vegetables with ranch dressing made with calcium-rich sour cream.
Small doses of calcium add up fast. Add cooked spinach and cheese to scrambled eggs, or top green salads with cooked black or kidney beans. Make chickpea hummus as a dip for raw veggies, or give your children a handful of almonds, a stick of mozzarella string cheese or a glass of fortified orange juice after school. Puddings and flavored yogurts make nutritious, calcium-rich desserts.
Vitamin D Boosts
Calcium can't be absorbed in the body without adequate vitamin D. Children's bodies make some vitamin D when sunlight hits their exposed skin. The rest must come from a varied diet. Offer your kids natural or enriched vitamin D foods every day to increase their calcium absorption. Canned salmon and tuna, eggs, Canadian bacon and ham all provide vitamin D. Most varieties of milk, soy milk and rice drink and some breakfast cereals and juices are fortified with vitamin D. Casseroles and pasta dishes make good meal options for getting calcium as well as vitamin D on the menu.