Calcium for Kids: Best Foods and Recipes


Learn all about the best sources of calcium for kids, and get recipe ideas and sample meals. Whether your kids eat dairy or need nondairy calcium sources, this will set your mind at ease about the nutrient!

calcium-for-kids-foods-in-bowls

Calcium for Kids

I know there are specific nutrients parents worry about and calcium is one of them. The good news is that once you learn which foods have calcium, it’s pretty easy to be sure you’re offering enough throughout the week.

So know that this post is not meant to stress you out or make you keep a running tally of servings or numbers, but rather to inform you and arm you with basic info so you can feel more confident that the kids are getting what they need!

How much calcium do my kids need?

Calcium needs increase as kids grow. Here’s a look at the daily calcium requirement by age from babyhood through elementary years (via the NIH). I’m not listing babies under 7 months here because they get enough in breastmilk or formula. It’s only as they start to transition to solids that we need to be a little more aware of offering it.

  • 7-12 months: 260 mg
  • 1-3 years: 700 mg
  • 4-8 years: 1,000 mg

TIP: Generally speaking, these amounts equal 2-3 servings of dairy (or nondairy equivalents) a day, most days. Which is much easier to wrap your head around because who has time to be doing math when you’re trying to make lunch?! (Not me!)

Calcium Deficiency in Children

When a child doesn’t have enough calcium, known as hypocalcemia, there isn’t enough calcium in the blood for the heart and muscles to work properly. Calcium is also needed to ensure proper bone development and growth. Some causes can include premature birth, some medications, and vitamin D deficiency. Johns Hopkins says this “can occur in breastfed babies who are not given vitamin D supplements.”

Symptoms of calcium deficiency can include brittle nails, dry skin, dry hair, muscle cramps, tingling in the fingers and toes, weakened tooth enamel, and seizures—and the best way to know is to have your pediatrician do a blood test to check calcium levels.

Once you know those numbers, your doctor can help you know whether a supplement is in order.

(Vitamin D deficiency can also contribute to bone fractures in older kids and adults, so it’s important to look at more than just this one nutrient.)

milk-in-cup-and-sippy-cup

Best Calcium-Rich Foods

The NIH outlines the foods that have the most calcium. Since kids eat a range of portion sizes, you’ll need to adjust depending on how much the kids actually eat or the amount you usually serve, but this is a good place to get an idea of which foods have more calcium than others.

  1. Yogurt, plain (8 oz) 415 mg
  2. Oj, calcium-fortified (1 cup) 349 mg
  3. Mozzarella (1.5 oz) 333 mg
  4. Sardines, canned in oil with bones (3 oz) 325 mg
  5. Cheddar cheese (1.5 oz) 307 mg
  6. Milk (1 cup) 299 mg
  7. Soy milk, calcium-fortified (1 cup) 299 mg
  8. Tofu, firm (½ cup) 253 mg
  9. Salmon, canned with bones (3 oz) 181 mg
  10. Cottage cheese (½ cup) 76 mg
  11. Breakfast cereal (such as Cheerios), fortified (½ cup) 130 mg
  12. Bread, fortified (1 slice) 73 mg
  13. Corn torilla (6-inch) 46 mg
  14. Flour tortilla (6-inch) 32 mg)
  15. Broccoli (½ cup) 21 mg
  16. Kale (½ cup) 12 mg

TIP: As you can see, dairy foods and fortified foods are typically highest in calcium (which can be easy to remember!).

nondairy-calcium-for-kids-foods

Best Nondairy Calcium Sources

If your child is vegan or has a dairy intolerance, or is simply a toddler who doesn’t drink milk, here are some nondairy sources of calcium that you can include in their diet to ensure they are getting enough. Always check the label, as individual brands may vary.

  1. Soy milk, calcium fortified (1 cup) 299 mg
  2. Nondairy milk (check the label to be sure it’s fortified—some are, some aren’t), amount varies
  3. Tofu, firm (½ cup) 253
  4. Salmon, canned with bones (3 oz) 181 mg
  5. Oj, calcium-fortified (½ cup) 175 mg
  6. Soy yogurt (¾ cup) 160 mg
  7. Breakfast cereal (such as Cheerios), fortified (½ cup) 130 mg 
  8. Sardines, canned in oil with bones (1 oz) 108 mg
  9. Bread, fortified (1 slice) 73 mg
  10. Corn torilla (6-inch) 46 mg
  11. Flour tortilla (6-inch) 32 mg
  12. Broccoli (½ cup) 21 mg
  13. Kale (½ cup) 12 mg

TIP: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends we keep children’s juice intake to 4 ounces or less each day, so keep that in mind with the orange juice.

Best Milk for Toddlers

If you’re wondering which dairy or nondairy type of milk to offer your kids, you can find the full information in this Best Milk for Toddlers post.  Experts at the Mayo Clinic also advise against letting the kids have more than 24 ounces of milk in a day (or three 8-ounce servings) as any more than that could negatively impact iron absorption.

That much milk could also make them less hungry for other foods.

Does my toddler need a calcium supplement?

Supplements are a very personal decision, and decisions about them should be based on your unique child and made in consultation with your pediatrician. Reach out to them for advice or plan to discuss it at your next checkup.

example-of-calcium-servings-for-kids

Sample Servings of Calcium for Kids

To help reassure you that many, if not most, kids are getting adequate calcium each day or to simply share some examples of what “enough” looks like, here are some examples of foods eaten in one day that would roughly meet the recommended daily amount of calcium for kids.

  1. 1 cup milk, 1 cup fortified breakfast cereal, 1 oz shredded cheese, 1 slice fortified bread
  2. 2.5 cups milk
  3. 2 cups milk, ½ cup fortified orange juice
  4. 1 cup yogurt, 1 cup milk
  5. ½ cup yogurt, 1 cup nondairy milk, ½ cup fortified orange juice, 2 quesadillas
  6. kale smoothie with nondairy milk, grilled cheese sandwich

TIP: I know I already said this, but simply aiming for 2-3 servings of dairy (whether or not that includes milk) most days is the easiest way to get their calcium needs—or fortified nondairy equivalents.

strawberry smoothie in storage containers

Best Calcium-Rich Recipes for Kids

Here are some of my favorite calcium-rich, kid-friendly recipes if you are wondering what you can give your child for calcium. There are a lot to choose from, so I hope this gives you a few more ideas to have in the mix!

Best Banana Milk (So Easy!)

Use a very ripe banana with a lot of brown spots in this recipe for the best flavor.

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banana-milk-on-counter-with-banana
Best Homemade Chocolate Milk

You can make this right before serving or make it up to 24 hours ahead.

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chocolate-milk-in-jar-with-pink-straw
Favorite Strawberry Milk (Fresh and Low Sugar)

You can make this with fresh strawberries or freeze-dried ones, depending on what you have on hand or access to. The version with freeze-dried berries tastes more similar to store bought strawberry milk; the one with fresh berries tastes more like fresh strawberries!

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strawberry-milk-in-jars
Best Vanilla Milk

You can cut this recipe in half to make a smaller ½ cup serving.

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vanilla-milk-in-cups-with-red-straws
Healthy Hot Chocolate (Ready in Minutes!)

We serve this homemade hot cocoa in little kid-size mugs, but any small cup should work.

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healthy-hot-cocoa
Strawberry Smoothie with Yogurt

You can use fresh or frozen berries in this simple Strawberry Smoothie and the results will have a texture that is similar to drinkable yogurt. To make it thicker and to try different flavor options, see the Notes at the end of the recipe.

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strawberry-smoothie-in-jar-and-cups
Easy Overnight Oats with Applesauce

You can easily double (or triple!) the recipe to make more servings. It uses a 1 to 1 ratio of yogurt to applesauce so you can easily scale it up. Mix these up the night before you plan to serve them.

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applesauce-overnight-oats-in-jars
Favorite Salmon Salad Sandwich

This salmon salad is packed with protein, healthy fats, and calcium and can be used as a dip or a spread for sandwiches. We use homemade relish in this recipe, but you can use any that you like the flavor of.

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salmon-salad-on-toast
Easy Baked Salmon Cakes (Salmon Patties)

These tender fish cakes make a quick and easy pantry meal when you haven’t planned ahead for dinner. Recipe updated slightly to ensure moistness in June 2021.

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salmon-cakes-on-parent-and-child-plate
Quick and Cheesy Baby Spinach

Use baby spinach, regular spinach, baby kale, or lacinato (sometimes called dinosaur) kale for best results and easy chewing.

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cheesy greens on divided plate with pink fork
Cheesy Baked Kale Bites

You can use curly kale or flat kale in this recipe—both work well.

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How to Bake Kale Bites
Creamy Vanilla Cottage Cheese Dip

With a smooth and creamy texture and a nice amount of protein and fats to fuel little bodies, this cottage cheese blend is perfect for spreading or dipping.

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cottage cheese dip on plate with fruit and graham crackers
Peach Banana Smoothie (with Cottage Cheese)

This simple smoothie is easy to make and is super creamy without many ingredients. You can even share it with your kiddo! Be sure to blend it very well to ensure the best creamy texture.

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cottage-cheese-smoothie-in-glass-with-strwa
Crispy Baked Tofu Nuggets (SO Good and Easy)

Tofu is typically sold in 14-16 ounce blocks. If yours is 16 ounces, you may need 1 ¼ cup panko. The garlic powder is optional, but adds nice flavor.

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tofu nuggets
Easy Baked Tofu (to Share with the Kids)

Learn how to make the easiest, most delish Baked Tofu with basic pantry staples and a hands-off method. This is our favorite way to turn an affordable plant-based protein into a meal component to share. We like this over rice noodles, rice, or quinoa, but it’s very versatile.

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baked tofu on purple plate
Easy Spinach Quesadillas

You can also do this with full size spinach if that’s what you’re able to find. Just discard any stems before starting the recipe.

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spinach quesadillas
Simple Green Smoothie

Frozen bananas give the smoothie a creamy, naturally sweet base, though you can make this with a fresh banana as long as the other fruit is frozen. It’s easy to add whatever berries or fruit you have on hand, so customize it for your kiddo. 

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green-smoothie-in-glass
Favorite Strawberry Yogurt

You can use fresh or frozen strawberries, freeze-dried strawberries or strawberry puree. This is an easy way to make flavored yogurt at home for breakfast or snack.

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strawberry yogurt in containers
Favorite Yogurt Dip for Fruit

You can stir together this 3-ingredient Yogurt Dip for fruit in about a minute, then serve up a fruit plate with extra flavor. Try this with any fruit the kids like, or even with graham crackers, toast sticks, or cut up waffles.

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yogurt dip on plate with strawberries
Best Banana Yogurt

This recipe make enough for 2-4 servings of yogurt, depending on the appetite of your child. See the Notes at the bottom for storage tips if you have leftovers. You can also cut the recipe in half to make a smaller amount.

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banana-yogurt-with-slices

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If you have any additional questions on calcium and kids, please comment below.

This post was first published December 2020. It is not meant as a substitute for medical advice.



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