The Best Sources of Calcium for a Dairy-Free Diet

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Your child’s body uses calcium to help create those growing bones and teeth, as well as for muscle contracting and blood clotting. Enough of it can also prevent children from developing rickets.

If your child is on a dairy-free diet due to an allergy or intolerance, calcium is one of the nutrients you’ll need to pay attention to. This is because the dairy food group includes some of the food sources richest in this mineral.

Nonetheless, it’s not necessary to consume dairy to get enough of this essential nutrient. If your child avoids dairy, you have other sources of calcium available that you can consider featuring within their diet.  

How Much Calcium Do Children Need?

Before adding calcium to your child’s diet, it’s good to have some idea of how much your son or daughter needs. Regardless of sex, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of calcium is 200 mg from 0 to 6 months of age, 260 mg from 7 to 12 months, 700 mg from 1 to 3 years, 1,000 mg from 4 to 8 years and 1,300 mg from 9 to 18 years.

Non-Dairy Foods with Calcium

Look to these non-dairy foods that are rich in calcium to add to the diet:

  • Fruits and Vegetables: You’ll find significant amounts of calcium in certain green leafy vegetables, such as collard greens, kale and bok choy; broccoli; and figs and oranges.

  • Seafood: Certain bone-in seafood is rich in calcium, including sardines, pilchards, canned shrimp and canned salmon with bones.

  • Soy: Calcium is found in soy beans and tofu.

  • Other foods: Some other foods contain calcium, such as almonds and baked beans.

To give you an idea, 1/2 cup of turnip greens gives 99 mg; 3 ounces of canned salmon offers 181 mg; and 1/2 cup of firm tofu provides 253 mg. Over the course of a day, your child can get enough calcium from these varied sources. Nonetheless, some vegetables, such as collard greens and broccoli, are tricky because they can interfere with the absorption of calcium.

It’s a good idea to be aware of the foods that contain calcium so you can ensure that it’s part of your child’s diet. It might be hard to get your child to eat some of these foods, so it could help to find recipes that make them enticing and to hide them, such as adding kale to a fruit smoothie.

Fortification and Supplements

It’s a lot easier to give your child enough calcium when you choose fortified foods. You’ll see this mineral added to foods such as:

  • Cereal

  • Flour, breads, tortillas and other grain foods

  • Juice

  • Dairy-free milk, such as rice, soy or almond milk

For example, one cup of fortified cereal can include 100 to 1,000 mg of calcium, depending on the type of cereal. If you add 8 ounces of fortified soymilk, you get an additional 299 mg. Also, 6 ounces of fortified orange juice offers 261 mg, and one slice of white bread provides 73 mg.

Supplements offer another way to get nutrients that are not abundant within a diet. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that children generally don’t require vitamin supplements and that it’s usually possible to get enough nutrients, including calcium, through diet, especially since many foods are fortified. Also, too much calcium can bring about negative consequences. Overall, it’s smart to check with your healthcare provider before starting a supplement regime.

A dairy-free diet doesn’t have to mean your child’s diet will lack calcium. A mix of natural and fortified foods can help you ensure your child gets enough to have healthy bones and other health benefits, and you can talk to your doctor about supplements.