Non-Milk Sources of Nutrients for Toddlers

Toddler eating
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Calcium, vitamin D, and fats all work together to help your toddler reach optimal brain growth, give your toddler healthy bones and skin and more. Fats help process vitamin D, which is a fat-soluble vitamin, and in turn, it helps the body use calcium. For parents who choose not to feed their families dairy products or who have children with a milk allergy, getting all the nutrients that milk provides—like calcium, vitamin D and fats—won't be as easy as getting your toddler to drink a couple of cups of milk each day. But it's not impossible either.

Listed below are foods that will help your child get the required amounts of these nutrients each day.

Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

Your toddler needs 500 milligrams of calcium per day.

Non-dairy foods that are rich in calcium include:

  • Tofu
  • Salmon
  • Green leafy vegetables like collard greens, turnip greens, kale, and spinach
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Almond milk or butter
  • Papaya
  • Calcium-fortified cereals
  • Calcium-fortified soy milk
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice

Check labels on foods you already buy and choose those that have higher calcium levels. Vitamin C helps the body absorb calcium so combining foods rich in this vitamin with the foods above can give your toddler a calcium boost. And remember, even if your toddler shies away from green, leafy vegetables, you can always put a little spinach or kale in soup or spaghetti sauce a few minutes before serving. This makes it much more palatable—so much so, they hardly notice they're eating something they refused the night before.

Non-Dairy Sources of Vitamin D

In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its recommendations for vitamin D from 200 IU to 400 IU. Even toddlers who are getting 2 cups of milk a day aren't reaching this number, however. It would take 4 cups of milk to get the required amount. Too much milk can lead to problems with iron deficiency and obesity, however. So, even if your toddler is getting some milk, it's a good idea to get the required vitamin D from food or a supplement.

Non-dairy foods that are high in vitamin D include:

  • Salmon, tuna, cod, mackerel, catfish, and other fatty fish
  • Shrimp
  • Eggs
  • Soy, rice or almond milks that are fortified with vitamin D​
  • Cereals that are fortified with vitamin D

Also, make sure your toddler is getting about 5-30 minutes of sun exposure per week (all year if you live in the South or during summer months if you live up North) so his body can make its own vitamin D.

Non-Dairy Sources of Fats

The USDA recommends that toddlers get 30-35 percent of their daily calories from fat. When you consider that a toddler's diet should consist of 1,000-1,500 calories per day, it's easy to see how 2 cups of whole milk (with 144 calories from fat) supply nearly half of that requirement. Fats are necessary for cell growth, energy, and processing fat-soluble vitamins.

Non-dairy foods that can supply healthy fats for your toddler when used in moderation include:

  • Peanut butter or other nut butters
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Olives (make sure they're not given whole to prevent choking)
  • Ground flaxseeds

Some foods are definitely better choices than others. Almond butter, for example, is rich in good fat and calcium. Salmon is rich in vitamin D, calcium and has healthier fats. When you're choosing food, look for the most nutrient-dense varieties you can find so that your toddler isn't getting too many calories.

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