Reviewed By: Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
Written By Else Team
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and freelance writer with 13-years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. She is the author of three books, including the Anti-Inflammatory Diet One Pot Cookbook. Through her writing, she demonstrates her passion for helping people achieve ideal health and make transformational changes in their lives
Research shows that approximately 42 percent of Americans (including children) do not meet their daily calcium needs.
Have you wondered whether or not you need to add supplemental calcium to your child’s diet? Are you confused about how much calcium they need or where they should be getting it?
If you said “yes” to any of these questions, keep reading. Explained below is everything you need to know about calcium for kids, from daily recommendations to the best calcium-rich foods to add to their diets.
Calcium and Vitamin D: The Basics
Before we explain the importance of calcium for children, let’s touch on the basics of this nutrient.
Calcium is a mineral that’s present in a variety of foods, including dairy products, which are the most popular source. It’s stored in the bones and teeth.
Often, discussions of calcium also include mentions of vitamin D. This is because we need vitamin D to properly absorb and utilize calcium.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that, in addition to supporting calcium absorption, also increases the absorption of magnesium and phosphate.
Vitamin D is produced by the skin when it’s exposed to direct sunlight. You can also get it in supplement form and from some foods.
What Is the Recommended Daily Amount of Calcium and Vitamin D?
When it comes to calcium for kids, most parents have questions about how much their child should be getting. The answer depends, though, based on their age.
How Much Calcium Does a Baby Need?
From birth to 6 months of age, babies need at least 200 milligrams of calcium per day. From 6-12 months of age, their need increases to at least 260 milligrams.
How Much Calcium Does a Toddler Need?
When kids reach toddler age (1-3 years), their calcium needs increase to at least 700 milligrams.
How Much Calcium Does a Child Need?
For children aged 4-8, calcium needs rise to at least 1,000 milligrams per day.
How Much Calcium Does an Adolescent Need?
Adolescent children (about 9-18 years of age) need at least 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day.
How Much Vitamin D Do Kids Need?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants under the age of 12 months need 400 International Units (or IUs) of vitamin D per day. After the age of 1 and through adolescents, kids need 600 IUs of vitamin D per day.
Why Is it Important to Get Enough Calcium and Vitamin D?
Now that you can answer the question “how much calcium do kids need?” with ease, let’s dive into the benefits calcium and vitamin D have to offer.
Benefits of Calcium for Kids
There are lots of reasons why kids need to get an adequate amount of calcium each day.
Calcium is stored in the bones and teeth to help keep them healthy and strong. If children don’t get enough calcium in their youth, they may be more prone to dental problems, fractures, and bone conditions like osteoporosis when they get older.
Calcium also supports healthy nervous system function and muscle function. It helps to regulate blood pressure, too.
Benefits of Vitamin D for Kids
Because vitamin D helps to improve calcium absorption, it’s also necessary for strong and healthy bones and teeth.
Vitamin D also plays a key role in several other bodily processes. For example, it strengthens the immune system and reduces kids’ risks of developing various illnesses and infections.
Should You Give Your Child a Calcium Supplement?
Most kids don’t require a high-dose calcium supplement. This is especially true if they’re getting plenty of calcium-rich foods from their diet.
That being said, some kids may be more prone to calcium deficiencies than others. For these children, it can be helpful to incorporate some supplemental calcium into their routine to fill in the gaps and ensure they’re not missing out on any benefits.
Should You Give Your Child a Vitamin D Supplement?
What about vitamin D? Should you give your child a vitamin D supplement in addition to their supplemental calcium?
If your child spends plenty of time outdoors in the sun, you might not need to worry about their vitamin D levels. However, for those who live in cloudy locations, vitamin D supplementation can be beneficial. The same is true during the fall and winter months when sun exposure is lower.
Who May Not Get Enough Calcium and Vitamin D?
Kids who fall into certain groups might be more prone to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies. The following are some children who may not be getting enough calcium in their diets:
- Kids who are allergic or sensitive to dairy products
- Kids who don’t eat dairy products for ethical or dietary reasons (i.e., vegans)
- Kids who are picky eaters and don’t gravitate toward calcium-rich foods
Children who fall into these categories may also need supplemental vitamin D:
- Kids who do not spend a lot of time in the sun (those who live in cloudy climates, those who burn easily, etc.)
- Kids who have darker skin (higher melanin levels slow down vitamin D synthesis)
- Kids who do not eat a lot of vitamin D-rich foods, either for ethical reasons or because of pickiness
For parents who are worried about their kids’ vitamin D or calcium intake, it’s best to check with a doctor before giving them any kind of supplement. The doctor can assess their diet and perform tests to evaluate whether or not supplementation is necessary.
The Best Calcium-Rich Foods
Dairy products are typically the first things that come to mind when people think about high-calcium foods. There are plenty of other good options, though, including plant-based foods and beverages.
Whether you’re looking for high-calcium foods for toddlers or calcium-rich foods for kids eating a plant-based diet, this list has some of the best options:
For kids who can’t or refuse to drink dairy milk, soy milk is a great alternative.
Not only is soy milk a good source of plant-based protein, but many varieties are also fortified with calcium. This makes it an excellent option for drinking plain, adding to cereal, or mixing into a smoothie.
Fortified Orange Juice
Many orange juice brands are also fortified with additional calcium. Some contain as much as 500 milligrams per cup!
Whether your kids don’t want to drink milk at all or if they just need some variety in their diet, fortified orange juice is a good drink to keep on hand.
Tofu is a highly versatile plant-based food that can also be a good source of calcium.
The key is to check the way it was prepared. Tofu that’s made with calcium sulfate will naturally be higher in calcium than tofu that was made with magnesium chloride.
Almonds are loaded with calcium and are a fun, simple snack for kids. One serving of almonds (about ⅓ of a cup) contains 110 milligrams of calcium.
Raw and roasted almonds are both good sources of calcium, as is almond butter, which can be spread on bread for sandwiches, tossed in a smoothie, or mixed into yogurt.
When most people think of sweet potatoes and their nutrient content, they first think of vitamin A. What they don’t realize, though, is that these orange root vegetables contain calcium, too.
A cup of cooked sweet potato contains about 76 milligrams of calcium. It won’t fully satisfy most children’s needs, but it will make a good dent in their daily intake.
Many different types of beans are good sources of calcium as well.
For example, boiled white beans contain about 130 milligrams of calcium per cup, and canned white beans contain around 190 milligrams. Canned chickpeas contain calcium, too (approximately 80 milligrams per cup).
Two and a quarter cups of broccoli contains the same amount of calcium as a cup of milk (about 300 milligrams).
For most parents, the idea of their child eating that much broccoli, plain, is downright laughable. To make it more enticing, try topping it with a little cheese (regular or dairy-free) or giving them a reasonable serving of Ranch dressing (about 2 tablespoons) for dipping.
One cup of green peas contains about 45 milligrams of calcium. That might not seem like a lot, but green peas also contain another vitamin that can support kids’ bones and teeth: Vitamin K.
Vitamin K may help to increase bone mineral density and strength. It regulates calcium deposition and prevents calcium from building up in the blood vessels or kidneys.
Finally, many brands of cereal are fortified with calcium. Even if your child doesn’t drink dairy milk with their breakfast, they could still be getting plenty of calcium from the cereal itself.
Check nutrition labels when shopping for cereal to find an option that contains a good amount of calcium per serving.
What Foods Are High in Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is found mainly in animal products like salmon, egg yolks, and sardines. However, there are a few plant-based foods and drinks that contain noteworthy amounts of this important vitamin, and many of them are more appealing to kids than fish and egg yolks.
Here are some options to keep in mind:
When it comes to plant foods, mushrooms are the best source of vitamin D. Mushrooms are interesting because they can synthesize vitamin D when they’re exposed to UV light, just like humans.
Wild mushrooms, in particular, contain a lot of vitamin D (up to 2,300 IU in a 3.5-ounce serving in some cases). Some commercially grown mushrooms (what you’ll find in most grocery stores) contain 130-450 IUs of vitamin D per 3.5-ounce serving, too.
Vitamin D-Fortified Milk
In the same way that many plant-based milk products, including soy milk, are fortified with calcium, several are fortified with vitamin D, too. Fortified milk is a good way to fill in gaps in a child’s diet and ensure they’re getting enough of this essential vitamin.
Vitamin D-Fortified Cereal
Many cereal brands are fortified with vitamin D, too. In combination with fortified milk, your child’s favorite breakfast could easily become the perfect vehicle for them to meet their daily vitamin D needs (or at least supplement what they’re getting from other sources).
Can Kids Have Too Much Calcium?
If kids consume too much calcium, they may develop hypercalcemia (or excessive calcium in the blood). This condition is unlikely, though, unless the child is far exceeding their daily calcium recommendation by taking too many supplements (i.e., taking in over 2,000 milligrams of calcium per day). You cannot get too much calcium from food alone.
Hypercalcemia can also occur if the child has a problem with their parathyroid gland, which is responsible for producing a hormone that regulates blood calcium levels. They may also develop this issue if they’re not getting enough vitamin D, which helps them to absorb calcium into the bones and teeth.
Some signs of hypercalcemia include abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, and muscle twitches.
Can Kids Have Too Much Vitamin D?
If children take in too much vitamin D, they may be more prone to kidney stones, which can develop when calcium gets into the blood vessels and kidneys. This only applies to supplemental vitamin D, not the vitamin D your body makes naturally from the sun.
For infants, vitamin D intake should not exceed 1,000-1,500 IUs per day. For kids aged 1-8 years, vitamin D levels of 2,500-3,000 or higher are considered problematic. For kids age 9 and older, exceeding 4,000 IUs of vitamin D per day could increase their risk of complications.
Increase Your Child’s Calcium and Vitamin D Intake Today
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The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.