How to Sneak Calcium into Your Child's Diet

Health Professional

Osteoporosis prevention begins in childhood as the bones grow and mature. The bones reach their peak bone mass by the age of 20 and then it is all downhill from there. Hopefully, by the age of 50, there is enough bone mass to prevent fragile fractures. Calcium plays a key role in the optimizing peak bone mass during childhood. Lately, an alarming trend has been happening to children. The beverages choices of the mothers are being reflected in the children; therefore, more children are drinking sugary soft drinks than milk. In fact, soda consumption is double that of milk consumption during the teenage years. This trend is reflected in the bone density scores which tend to be lower in children who do not drink milk. This trend most likely leads to osteoporosis later in life.

Just looking at the recommend calcium intakes for children, you will notice that the highest amount of calcium is needed from the ages of 9 to 18 years of age, just when milk starts to be supplanted by sugar drinks. Less than 50% of children are getting enough Calcium. So, how can you sneak calcium into a child's diet without sour faces?

The dairy group is the easiest place to start. Remember, milk matters, but you have to watch out for fat. Three cups per day would be ideal even if that means more chocolate milk which can make the low fat or non-fat milks more palatable. A child under the age of 2 years of age should only be getting whole milk. Sneaking some low fat frozen yogurt into the mix can help. And an occasional grilled cheese sandwich can also boost the calcium intake. Dairy is the easiest way to get more calcium into a child, but tricky on account of fat and calories.

So, try some other sneaky calcium foods like the fortified foods. These days many foods are fortified with calcium, even orange juice. If you are avoiding milk because of lactose intolerances or fat content, then you may want to look for soy milk which has calcium added. Try the chocolate soy milk, your kids will love it. If you really want to get sneaky, tofu can have calcium added. What? No way will a child eat tofu. Well, stick it in a blender with some fruit, honey and soy milk. And just like magic, you have a delicious fruit smoothie with calcium.

Now, if you want to get even sneakier, put a little kale into that fruit smoothie for a crazy green drink that tastes great. Kale is one of those green calcium foods. Because of its mild taste, kale can be disguised in blended drinks or soups. Speaking of soups, broccoli is great for soups plus it contains calcium. My mom always made a great broccoli-cheese soup. I wonder if she realized that she was sneaking calcium into my diet. Although green calcium foods do not contain nearly as much calcium as the dairy products, they do boost the totals and ever little bit helps those growing bones.

Growing bones need lots of calcium. The more calcium put into the bone bank early in life, the less likely that individual will get osteoporosis later in life. Even if you have a picky eater in your household, do not waiver from your goal of giving your child nutritious foods, of teaching your child how to make good food choices and of sneaking as much calcium into your child as possible.