Between dealing with picky eaters, kids who don't want to stop playing to eat and other family obligations, you may find that serving nutritious meals and snacks sometimes gets swept under the rug. Making sure your child gets the recommended dietary allowances of vitamins and minerals is vital to healthy growth patterns. In particular, ensure that your children get enough calcium in their daily diets to help them build strong bones.
The Importance of Calcium
Calcium is vital for several important body processes, including muscle function, nerve function and hormonal secretion. It's also important in building strong bones and teeth since these structures store 99 percent of the body's calcium supply, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Children's bones are still growing until the end of their teenage years, and if they don't get enough calcium in their daily diets, the body releases it from their bones.
Infants get calcium from breast milk or formula, but once they turn a year old, it's important to make sure they're getting calcium from dietary sources as well. Toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 should get 700 milligrams of calcium per day. That amount increases to 1,000 milligrams for children 4 to 8 years old. From their ninth birthday until they are 18, children need 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. While most children do not take in excessive amounts of calcium, getting too much can lead to constipation, problems absorbing iron and zinc, and kidney problems. Children between 1 and 8 years old shouldn't get more than 2,500 milligrams of calcium per day, and up to 3,000 milligrams per day is safe for children 9 to 18 years old.
Sources of Calcium
Dairy products are some of the best sources of calcium for growing children. After their first birthdays, most children should switch to whole milk, which provides 276 milligrams of calcium per 8-ounce serving. Yogurt and cheese are also rich in calcium. Soy milk fortified with calcium provides 299 milligrams of calcium per serving and is a good choice for children who are vegan or are allergic to milk. Other nondairy foods high in calcium include white beans, calcium-fortified orange juice, tofu, kale and collard greens.
The Vitamin D Connection
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium properly and helps prevent rickets in young babies and toddlers. Children should get at least 400 international units of vitamin D per day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Liquid and chewable vitamins containing the recommended daily intake of vitamin D are available for infants and children. Vitamin D is also absorbed through the skin from sunlight, but it can be difficult for children to get enough vitamin D this way since their skin should be protected with sunscreen. Oily fish, cheese, egg yolks and beef liver contain vitamin D, but most children still need a supplement. Always check with your child's pediatrician before beginning any supplements.