© Nataliia Prokofyeva | Dreamstime.com
When your child reaches into the fridge for a drink, what’s the first thing he grabs? If you answered soda or juice, you’re not alone. With so many beverage choices today, many kids aren’t in the habit of drinking milk. Yet milk, along with other calcium-rich foods, provides the one nutrient children can’t afford to miss: calcium.
Here’s why. From birth to age 21, your child’s body absorbs calcium, which helps to make stronger, healthier bones. Strong bones are more resistant to fractures or breaks. Once your child reaches age 21, however, that calcium build-up begins to level off. Then, bone calcium gradually begins to decrease during young adulthood.
That progressive loss continues as we age, particularly in women.
Why choose milk? The National Dairy Council states that “low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products supply three of the five nutrients of concern that according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines children don’t get enough: calcium, potassium, and magnesium.”
Milk, as well as dairy products like cheese and yogurt, provides the easiest way for the body to absorb calcium. When feeding young children, be aware that whole milk is not recommended for babies under the age of 1. They need breast milk or formula only. For ages 1 to 2, whole milk is appropriate. After age 2, children can drink 2 percent, 1 percent or nonfat milk.
How Much Calcium Per Day?
- Ages 2 to 3 • 700 mg of calcium or 2 cups of milk per day.
- Ages 4 to 8 • 1,000 mg of calcium or 2 1/2 cups of milk
- Ages 9 to 18 • 1,300 mg of calcium or 3+ cups of milk
Don’t forget, grown-ups need calcium too!
Easy Ways to Work Calcium into Your Diet
Vanilla fat-free or low-fat yogurt topped with cereal and blueberries. Use fat-free or low-fat milk instead of water to make oatmeal and other hot cereals. Serve calcium-fortified orange juice.
Spread tuna fish on top of a whole wheat English muffin. Add a slice of tomato and cover with 2 oz. low-fat cheddar cheese. Finish dish by warming for 1 minute to melt cheese.
One cup of fat-free or low-fat milk and banana slices.
• Some children are allergic to milk and milk products, but they still need calcium. Ask your doctor for creative ways to include calcium in their diet. Alternative foods include broccoli, collard greens, and almonds.
• Drink fat-free or low-fat milk instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
• Eat a variety of vegetables daily. The darker the color, the richer in nutrients.
• Engage in 60 minutes of moderate activity on most (preferably all) days of the week.
• Limit screen time to less than 2 hours daily.
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and KidsHealth.org