What your toddler eats during their first 1000 days of life can have a big influence on their future growth and development, including brain development. During this time, it is essential that your toddler receives a variety of nutrients to ensure they grow up happy and healthy. One nutrient that is of particular importance during this time and for the rest of their life is calcium.
It’s not a news flash that calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth. However, we still frequently hear myths popping up in the media disputing this science, so let’s revisit what the research has shown in regards to calcium just to put your mind at ease.
What is Calcium?
Calcium is a must have nutrient in your child’s diet. Aside from being the building block for healthy bones and teeth, the body uses calcium for a number of functions including muscle contraction, blood vessel constriction and relaxation, the secretion of hormones and enzymes and the nervous system. The body is constantly withdrawing calcium from bones to use for it’s functions so as a parent it is important that you are offering your child adequate calcium. Think of it like a bank account in which you’re helping your child to make “deposits” of calcium into so that they can keep up with the regular “withdrawals”.
How much calcium do toddlers require?
Once children are aged over 1 year, their calcium requirements almost double because they are growing and developing at such a rapid pace. It is recommended toddlers consume 500mg of calcium per day – this is equivalent to around 1 ½ serves of dairy.
*Images from Nutrition Australia website
Where do you find calcium in the diet?
It may not come as a surprise that dairy foods are the best source of calcium in the diet. Milk, cheese and yoghurt provide a convenient and readily absorbable source of calcium. Milk is also a good source of phosphorus and magnesium which helps the body to absorb and use the calcium more effectively.
Calcium is also found in other foods, however, the bioavailability tends to be poorer in these foods (meaning the calcium is not absorbed as well into the bloodstream). The following foods non-dairy foods contain calcium:
- Pink salmon with bones
- Firm tofu (check the label as calcium levels vary)
- Sardines, canned in water
- Almonds with skin
If your child can’t have milk or is intolerant to milk, alternatives such as soy milk that are fortified with at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml may be suitable.
And for Fussy Eaters
If your toddler is a fussy eater it can be difficult to ensure they are receiving all of the important nutrients they need, including calcium. Children are unlikely to like or try new foods the first time they are offered it, however, continually offering small portions of a new food should eventually result in them trying and (hopefully) enjoying the food! It is also important that you role model healthy habits to help encourage your toddler to adopt these habits.
If you think your toddler may be lacking in calcium, here are some ways to try and bump up their intake:
- Use yoghurt as a dipping sauce for fruit or veggie sticks as a snack
- Add yoghurt to fruit salads
- Make fruit smoothies with fresh fruit, milk and yoghurt
- Substitute peanut butter for almond butter in sandwiches or as a snack with whole grain crackers
- Include grated cheese in pasta, veggies, mashed potatoes and meatball dishes- it makes the dishes creamier!
- Include milk and/or cheese in scrambled eggs
- Add dark leafy greens such as kale into lasagnas or pasta sauces as these contain some calcium.
We always encourage a food first approach to meeting nutrient requirements. However, if your child cannot eat or drink all of the calcium they need in a day, they may need to take calcium supplements. This can be in a liquid, a pill or a capsule, a chewable tablet, a gummy or a dissolving tablet. Talk to your doctor, dietitian and/or pharmacist before starting your child on any supplements.
Don’t Forget Vitamin D!
Vitamin D is extremely important for ensuring that the calcium consumed is properly absorbed in the body. Ensuring your child gets enough time in the sun is critical to help children meet their Vitamin D requirements.
- To learn more about kids nutrition, click here.
- Check out our School Lunchbox eBook here.
- For more nutrition tips and healthy recipe ideas, check us out on Instagram.