Bones are the framework of a child’s growing body. Bone is living tissue that is always changing, with bits of old bone being replaced with new bone.
During childhood and the teenage years, much more bone is made than replaced. Because up to 90 percent of peak bone mass is reached by age 18 in girls and age 20 in boys, childhood is the best time to build bone mass so they stay strong and healthy for a lifetime.
One way to think about bone mass, or density, is to think of it as a gas tank, and calcium is the fuel needed to fill the tank.
Throughout a child’s developmental years, it is important to fill the “calcium tank” so that it is full by the time he or she reaches adulthood.
To achieve that, include frequent small portions of calcium-rich foods and drinks in your child’s daily meals. While a good source of calcium is dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.), there are many “power foods” packed with calcium that you can include in your child’s diet to boost bone health.
The physicians from Norton Children’s Orthopaedics of Louisville recommend these power foods as great nondairy alternatives for a calcium-rich diet:
Chickpeas – 100 mg of calcium in 1/2 cup
Edamame – 252 mg of calcium in 1/2 cup
Spinach and leafy green vegetables – 59 mg of calcium in 2 cups of raw spinach
Sweet potatoes – 68 mg of calcium in 1 large sweet potato
White or cannellini beans – 80 mg of calcium in ½ cup
Broccoli – 74 mg of calcium in 1 cup
*Approximate calcium values provided
It’s important to adjust the amount of calcium in your child’s diet as they grow older. Mix and match dairy products and other power foods to reach the recommended daily calcium amounts (milligrams):
Birth to 6 months 200 milligrams
7 months to 1 year 260 milligrams
Children and teens
Ages 1 to 3 700 milligrams
Ages 4 to 8 1,000 milligrams
Ages 9 to 18 1,300 milligrams
A helpful list of calcium-containing foods can be found here.
Ensuring your child is getting enough calcium to fill the tank is one of the best things you can do to set them up for a strong, healthy body later in life. Not sure if your child is getting enough? Speak with your health provider.
Power foods for powerful kids
Check out these calcium-rich recipes your whole family will love!
Green Goblin Smoothie
Crispiest Sweet Potato Fries
Easy White Bean Dip
Crispy Edamame and Chickpeas
Cheesy Broccoli Tots