The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine* recommends that children between the ages of 9 to 18 years old get at least 1,300 mg of calcium a day. Everyone needs calcium in their diet every day to build and maintain healthy strong bones. This is especially true for kids in their bone-building years. Low calcium intake during childhood is associated with osteoporosis later in life. Osteoporosis is a disease of low bone mass and thinning of bone tissues that can result in broken bones.
Although milk and foods made from milk are the most concentrated source of dietary calcium, children who don’t like drinking milk can get their calcium from other high-calcium rich foods. Many foods are supplemented with calcium, such as juices and cereals. Be sure to check the label for the amount of calcium and be sure to watch for levels of salt and sugar in processed foods. You don’t want to add too much of that in an attempt to get calcium!
Many dark leafy vegetables contain calcium. So do some nuts. Check out our list to get a sample of great sources for calcium. In addition to eating the right foods and getting enough calcium to prevent osteoporosis later on, children should also get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption so is essential for bone growth. The easiest way to get vitamin D is through exposure to sunlight—but we don’t recommend trying to go that route. Find foods with vitamin D and consider adding a supplement—they’re pretty inexpensive.
*Source: Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 2010.