How to get calcium into your child’s diet

Kids are fussy eaters and there’s hardly a parent who isn’t stressed out about what their child ‘will and won’t’ eat. Most of the times the ‘won’t ‘list exceeds the one’s that they do eat. Sometimes these are not of utmost concern for most pediatricians or dietitians, but if key nutrients are getting missed out on a daily basis, then an alternate solution needs to be looked into.

Minimise the consumption of junk foods with no mnerals and vitamins among kids. File pic.

One of the key nutrients in a child’s diet is calcium. If your child is allergic (lactose intolerant) or plain fussy about drinking milk (the most common source of calcium) then you definitely need to bring it to the notice of your child’s pediatrician or a nutritionist. Calcium is needed by the body for building and maintaining not just strong, healthy bones, but also good teeth, muscle strength and nerve function. Missing this out could lead to a lot of developmental and bone problems.

How much calcium do children require per day? Here’s a look at the revised Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium as suggested by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR):

Group Age Calcium (mg)
Infants 0-12mths 500
Children 1-9 yrs. 600
Boys+Girls 10-17 yrs. 800

That being said, what does one do when a child refuses to drink milk? Force-feeding a child is never a good option as it will only make your child hate that particular food all the more. The other options are giving him/her alternate food sources of calcium or using calcium supplements. The pediatrician may recommend calcium supplements if he/she feels that the child is not getting enough from his diet. The other way is to sneak in calcium into your child’s diet.

How? Well, for starters, here’s a big eye opener for all parents-milk is NOT the only source of calcium. True – it is a good source of calcium, and something that is easily found in every household, but there’s no need to fret if your child refuses to touch it. Here’s a table of all the sources and quantity of calcium each food source provides:

Food Quantity Calcium (mg)
Milk(skimmed) 1 cup (240ml) 302
Curd (made from low-fat milk) 1 cup (240ml) 400
Cheese slice 1no.(21 gms) 171
Paneer 100gms 208
Ragi 100gms 370
Almonds (badam) 100gms 268
Sesame seeds roasted(til) 28 gms 280
Amaranth leaves (dantina soppu) 100gms 215
Drumstick leaves 100gms 185
Rajma (kidney beans) 100gms 143
Amaranth seeds (rajgira) 100gms 159
Kabuli channa 100gms 105
Walnuts 100gms 98
Ladiesfinger (bendekai) 100gms 82
Green gram dal 100gms 75
Coriander leaves (kotambari soppu) 100gms 67
Egg 45gms(medium size) 25

Here are different ideas of including the calcium into your child’s diet:

  • If your child is fussy about milk, but will eat/drink other milk-based products include those in his/her daily diet. A glass of lassi instead of milk, fruit milk shakes, fruit smoothies made with their favorite fruits and curd, cheese sandwiches or cheese paratha, paneer dishes like ‘palak paneer’, paneer paratha or scrambled paneer. You can even try sneaking some skim milk powder to the chapathi dough, soups or dosa/idli batter. Curd can be served with meals or as a dip for rottis or as a snack in the evening along with some chopped fruits.
  • For those kids who are allergic to milk, try soya and soya products like soya milk, tofu which are also good sources of calcium.
  • Ragi can be used in different forms like rotti, ragi mudde(ball), dosa/idli, ragi malt (ambli). Nowadays most grocery stores like Food World, Namdhari, Food bazaar, Ashirwad or even the local grocers stock products made from ragi like ragi flakes, vermicelli, puttu, ragi flour and ragi malt, so you can be innovative and make a variety of dishes using ragi.
  • Nuts like walnuts and badam can be given as a snack or added to dishes and milkshakes. Til unde (til laddu) or chikki is another snack that kids love to eat.
  • Include green leafy vegetables at least twice a week in your meals. They can be served as palya/sabzi, soppina saaru or be made into chutneys or parathas.

Even if your kids are getting sufficient calcium from their diets here are some factors that you need to keep in mind:

Get enough Vitamin D: Along with adequate calcium, the body also needs adequate vitamin D to absorb it, so make sure that your children are not stuck indoors the whole day and get plenty of sunshine and physical activity. (To learn more about vitamin D, read : Did you get your Vitamin D today?)

Say no to aerated drinks: Avoid or restrict aerated/soft drinks – kids these days tend to drink a lot of soft drinks and this can interfere with the calcium absorption. Some researchers believe the reason behind this is the phosphoric acid present in these drinks tends to leach calcium from the body. Besides this, colas and other soft drinks do not provide any other nutrition other than calories.

Avoid sodium-rich foods: Reduce the consumption of salty foods like chips, mixtures, pickles and ketchups as excess sodium in the diet can cause calcium to be lost in the urine.

About Sweta Uchil-Purohit 14 Articles

Sweta Uchil-Purohit is a dietitian with over 15 years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics with a passion for helping people understand the topic.

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