5 dairy-free foods that are high in calcium

“Dairy free” has been a big craze over the past few years, with many people opting to cut dairy from their diet for different reasons. For some this may be an ethical choice, for others it may be due to concerns of lactose intolerance. If your child has a dairy-free diet, it’s extremely important to ensure that they receive adequate calcium from other sources.

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Most people are aware of the importance of calcium for bone formation, but did you know that 99% of our bodies calcium is stored in our bones and teeth? The remaining 1 % is found in bodily fluids. While 99% may seem like HEAPS of calcium, if we don’t consume adequate calcium through our diets, our body draws our calcium stores from our bones and teeth to ensure the calcium levels of our bodily fluids always remains at 1%. What exactly does this mean? That if we don’t have enough calcium in our diets, it can have long-term consequences for our bone health, such as osteoporosis in later life.

Most people don’t realise that we reach peak bone mass (our ideal bone strength) by our mid-to-late-20’s, with almost half of our adult bone mass being gained during adolescence. But does calcium actually strengthen our bones? Research shows that calcium intake increases bone strength, especially for pre-pubertal children, meaning that childhood and adolescence are a crucial time for calcium intake!

So your next question is probably, well how much calcium does my child need each day? The Australian guidelines currently recommend:

  • 500mg/day for children aged 1-3 years

  • 700mg/day for children aged 4-8 years

  • 1000mg/day for children aged 9-11 years

  • 1300mg/day for children aged 12-18 years

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Below are 5 foods high in calcium that you can include in your child’s diet, especially if they are dairy free.

  1. canned fish with bones- an 85g can contains over 400mg of calcium. Please be mindful of bones with young children as they may pose a choking hazard.

  2. tofu- 1/2 a cup contains around 130mg of calcium

  3. leafy greens (bok choy, broccoli, silver beet, kale)- 1/2 a cup of these cooked green vegetables contains 80-90mg of calcium

  4. legumes- 1/2 cup cooked pinto beans contains around 40mg of calcium

  5. almonds- a 30g serving contains around 80mg of calcium

Hi, I’m Aspen, a university qualified teacher and nutritionist. As one of seven kids, a mum and ten years teaching experience, I understand just how challenging mealtimes can be. That’s why I’m so passionate about giving families a range of strategies to reduce fussy eating and make mealtimes an enjoyable family experience. I also work with schools doing incursions, parent information sessions and canteen menu assessment