My oldest son does not drink milk. He does not eat cheese. Even as a baby, he eschewed that celebrated milk mustache, and any ounce of cheese I sneaked into a meal came right back out with a grimace. This aversion never wavered; he is 11, and he still takes the cheese off pizza.
To each his own, I say to my son. And because he eats a full plate of broccoli rabe with his pizza, providing him with calcium and many other important nutrients, I don’t lose sleep.
Over the past few decades, we’ve been told that the best sources of calcium are milk and cheese, but what if your child, like mine, doesn’t drink milk? Or what if you want to diversify a child’s diet so he is not relying only on dairy products?
There are countless appetizing ways to ensure a child consumes the calcium required to build strong bones and teeth, support muscle and nerve function and sustain heart health.
For instance, here is a sample day of calcium-rich meals:
A smoothie with almond butter, yogurt, a banana and a handful of frozen strawberries.
Granola wedge made with sesame and/or sunflower seeds.
A whole-grain bean burrito with a side of carrots.
A handful of almonds with an orange or some dried apricots.
●Spread almond butter on toast, apple slices or a banana.
●Serve sesame noodles to the pasta-loving set.
●Take your child pea-picking at a nearby farm and watch them tear open the shells to pop the calcium-rich peas in their mouths.
●Sprinkle sesame seeds on salads.
●Hand out hummus and chips as a snack.
●Place a bowl of edamame on the table for snack.
●Toss a handful of raw spinach in a smoothie.
●Make soup with chicken broth made from bones.
I don’t advocate counting the milligrams of calcium your child consumes each day; that would put even the worst helicopter parents to shame. But it can be helpful to have a sense of what a child needs and how to serve it up to him. The Institute of Medicine recommends 700 mg per day for children ages 1 to 3, 1,000 mg per day for children 4 to 8, 1,300 mg for children 9 to 18 and 1,000 mg per day for most adults.
But overall, the smartest strategy is to diversify our diets. We shouldn’t rely on dairy, meat, carbohydrates or any one category of food for a majority of our nutrition. A modest amount of yogurt or cheese, a serving of meat, beans and whole grains, and oodles of vegetables will provide every one of our children the calcium and other nutrients they need.
At the risk of sounding like the mother I am: Everything in moderation, kids.
Sources of calcium, according to U.S. Agriculture Department:
●Tofu (1 / 2 cup) 434 mg
●Yogurt, plain low-fat (8 oz.) 415 mg
●Sesame butter (3 ounces) 84 mg
●1 percent cow’s milk (1 cup) 305 mg
●Sesame seeds (3 teaspoons) 264 mg
●Soybeans (1 cup) 261 mg
●Broccoli (1 cup, cooked) 180 mg
●Blackstrap molasses (1 tablespoon) 172 mg
(1 / 2 cup, cooked from frozen) 146 mg
●Navy beans (1 cup) 128 mg
●Hamburger (double patty) 122 mg
●Kale (1 cup) 101 mg
●Pinto beans (1 cup) 82 mg
●Garbanzo beans (1 cup, cooked) 80 mg
●Almonds (1 oz, 23 whole nuts) 75 mg
●Kidney beans (1 cup) 50 mg
●Green peas (1 cup, boiled) 40 mg
●Sweet potatoes (1 cup, cubes) 40 mg
●Orange 38 mg
●Raisins (1 small box) 22 mg
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C. nutrition education company.