Which Foods Are Rich in Calcium?

Dairy and nondairy sources of calcium

Young boy drinking milk
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Knowing which foods are high in calcium can help ensure your kids are getting enough in their diet. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "The average dietary intake of calcium by children and adolescents is well below the recommended levels of adequate intake." This can mean that these children will not develop their optimal bone mass, which can put them at risk of fractures and osteoporosis.

You can encourage your kids to get enough calcium in their diet by choosing calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Children should eat three age-appropriate servings of dairy products per day and adolescents should eat four servings per day or the equivalent. Also, learn about nondairy sources of calcium that you might encourage if your child cannot tolerate dairy products.

Daily Calcium Needs

It is also important to understand how much calcium kids actually need. The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences recommends:

  • 700 mg a day for kids who are 1 to 3 years old
  • 1,000 mg a day for kids who are 4 to 8 years old
  • 1,300 mg a day for kids who are 9 to 18 years old

When you read a food label, the Daily Value (% DV) of calcium is based on the adult requirements of 1000 mg per day, not the requirements for children. A cup of milk that contains 30% DV for calcium would be equal to 300 mg of calcium, which would actually be equal to about 40 percent of a toddler's calcium needs for the day. But it would be only about 23 percent of a teen's calcium needs.

You'll either have to look at the milligrams (mg) or do a little math to see how % DV should be translated for kids under age 4 or over age 8.

Calcium Rich Dairy Foods

In addition to choosing foods from the following list, you should learn to look at food labels and choose foods that have a high % DV for calcium and at least 20 percent of your child's requirements or more. You may find big differences in the calcium content of foods, even among different brands of the same foods such as cheese, juice, and bread.

  • Yogurt, plain
  • Yogurt, fruit
  • Milk, low-fat or nonfat
  • Milk, whole
  • Cheese, including American, ricotta, cheddar cheese, and mozzarella cheese
  • Milkshakes
  • Eggnog

Remember that just because your child is eating cheese, that doesn't mean that she is getting a lot of calcium. Check the nutrition label to make sure the cheese has a lot of calcium. And also look for foods made with these calcium-rich foods as ingredients, such as macaroni and cheese (cheese), pudding (milk), and nachos (cheese).

Nondairy Foods With Calcium

Getting enough calcium can be especially hard if your kids are allergic to milk. These nondairy foods can be good choices for kids with milk allergies who need calcium:

  • Salmon
  • Tofu
  • Rhubarb
  • Sardines
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens
  • Okra
  • White beans
  • Baked beans
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Bok choy
  • Almonds

Calcium-Fortified Foods

In addition to a large number of naturally calcium-rich foods (like milk and cheese), a lot of foods are now fortified with calcium. These can be especially good choices if your child doesn't like to drink milk.

  • Calcium-fortified breakfast cereal, including General Mills Whole Grain Total, Total Raisin Bran, Total Cranberry Crunch, and Total Honey Clusters, all of which have 100 percent of the daily value of calcium per serving.
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Calcium-fortified soy milk
  • SunnyD with Calcium (most SunnyD products don't have calcium, so look for the one that does if your child needs extra calcium in his diet)
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Calcium-fortified bread or English muffins
  • Calcium-fortified drink mixes such as Pediasure or Carnation Instant Breakfast
  • Other calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, including General Mills Golden Grahams (350 mg)

In addition to dairy products, you can get calcium by eating leafy greens, broccoli, tofu, and canned salmon. Some foods, like orange juice and cereals, are also fortified with calcium. Check the nutrition facts label to see how much calcium is in various foods.

What to Know About Calcium-Rich Foods

Other things to know about calcium-rich foods include that:

  • Most varieties of children's vitamins don't have much calcium in them and you may need a special calcium supplement instead.
  • Choose from a combination of calcium-rich foods to get even more calcium in your child's diet, such as a grilled cheese sandwich using calcium-fortified bread and cheese or calcium-fortified breakfast cereal with half a cup of low-fat milk.
  • In addition to getting enough calcium in your diet, regular exercise is also important for healthy bones.

Talk to your pediatrician if you aren't sure if your child is getting enough calcium in his diet.

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