Non-Milk Sources of Nutrients for Toddlers

a toddler eating

PeopleImages / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Calcium, vitamin D, and fat work with other nutrients to promote optimal bone and brain development in infants and toddlers, especially in the first 1,000 days of life. Research has shown that this period is critical for brain growth in particular and can affect the mental health of a child for years to come.

While milk is one of the most common dietary sources of calcium, vitamin D, and fat for toddlers, it is certainly not the only one. Many other foods also provide these important nutrients.

Overview

Dietary fats help the body absorb and store vitamin D. In turn, vitamin D aids in the utilization of calcium for bone and teeth formation, muscle contraction, and other essential functions in the body.

Liquid milk is fortified with vitamin D, so kids who regularly drink milk or eat yogurt that is made with fortified milk are likely getting enough vitamin D through food. Toddlers who don't or can't drink milk or eat yogurt, on the other hand, may not be meeting vitamin D requirements unless their diet strategically includes other vitamin D-rich foods in addition to supplements.

If you choose not to feed your family dairy products, you have a child with a milk allergy, or you have a child who simply doesn't like milk or yogurt, you will need to find alternative sources for the nutrients that milk provides. Even if your child is consuming milk and yogurt or other foods rich in vitamin D, unless they're consuming several servings a day, they may still need a supplement.

There are other foods beyond milk and yogurt that provide calcium, vitamin D, and fats. Here are some non-dairy sources of these nutrients you can include in your toddler's diet.

Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

Calcium can be found in a wide variety of non-dairy foods. Your toddler (ages 1–3) needs to consume about 700 milligrams of calcium per day.

Non-dairy calcium-rich foods include:

  • Salmon or sardines canned with the bones, 345mg per 3 ounces
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice, 350mg per cup
  • Fortified almond milk or other dairy-alternative milk like soy or oat, 300mg per cup
  • Firm tofu made with calcium sulfate, 250mg per 1/2 cup
  • Soybeans, 130mg per 1/2 cup cooked
  • Green leafy vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, kale, and spinach), 50–100mg per 1/2 cup cooked
  • Calcium-fortified cereals, varies

If sticking to non-dairy sources of calcium, toddlers need to eat 2–3 servings of calcium-rich foods a day to meet their nutritional needs. That might be a challenge if your toddler can't eat enough of these foods or they simply don't care for them.

Try adding calcium-rich foods to meals your toddler enjoys. For example, tofu and fortified dairy-alternative milks can be easily incorporated into smoothies as can leafy greens and nut butters. Foods like sardines and salmon can be made into burgers or incorporated into spaghetti sauces.

If your child still isn't getting enough calcium each day, talk to your pediatrician about supplementing. You'll want to adjust how much you supplement based on an approximation of how much calcium they're getting from food with the goal of getting around 700mg a day total for toddlers and 1,000mg for kids ages 4–8.

Vitamin C helps the body absorb calcium, so combining foods rich in vitamin C with those that are rich in calcium can boost your toddler's calcium absorption even more.

Non-Dairy Sources of Vitamin D

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that toddlers get 600 IU of vitamin D per day. One glass of milk contains 120 IU of vitamin D, so it would take 5 cups of milk to get the required amount (which is a lot, even for avid dairy fans).

Drinking too much milk can displace other foods in the diet and lead to a lack of variety, so it's a good idea for your toddler to get some of their required vitamin D intake from other foods, even if they are getting a few servings of milk each day.

It's important to note, however, that there aren't a lot of foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D. Even milk is fortified (that is, the vitamin D is added). Unless your child consistently eats vitamin D-rich foods throughout the day, they may need a supplement.

Non-dairy foods that contain vitamin D include:

  • Salmon, trout, tuna, cod, mackerel, and other fatty fish, 570 IU per 3 ounces
  • Mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light, 366 IU per 1/2 cup
  • Soy, rice, or nut milk products fortified with vitamin D​, 100–144 IU per cup
  • Eggs, 44 IU per large egg
  • Cereals fortified with vitamin D, varies

Vitamin D can also be made by the body from precursors found in sunlight. However, due to the risk of skin cancer caused by too much sun exposure, this method is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).


Because there aren't many foods that provide vitamin D, it may be difficult to meet daily recommendations without a supplement. It can be especially challenging for toddlers who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

The AAP advises talking to your pediatrician to see if your child would benefit from a supplement that provides all of the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy growth and development.

Non-Dairy Sources of Fats

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that toddlers get 25–35% of their daily calories from fat. Fats are necessary for cell growth, energy, and processing fat-soluble vitamins.

A toddler should get around 30 grams of fat a day. While whole milk, whole milk yogurt, and cheese certainly supply fat, there are many non-dairy foods that offer fat to meet a toddler's needs.

Non-dairy foods that can supply fats for your toddler include:

  • Salmon and other fatty fish, 11g per 3 ounces
  • Avocados, 8.5g per 1/4 cup mashed
  • Peanut butter or other nut butters, 8g per tbsp
  • Olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, sunflower seed oil, etc., 5g per tsp
  • Ground flaxseeds, 2g per tbsp
  • Olives (serve cut up rather than whole to prevent choking), 1g per tbsp

Using oils to cook veggies, offering mashed avocado or hummus for dipping, spreading nut or seed butters onto toast or adding into smoothies, stirring ground flaxseed into oatmeal, and serving fatty fish regularly can all contribute fat to a toddler's daily diet.

Because the average American diet provides plenty of sources of fats, the vast majority of toddlers have no problem getting enough dietary fat with or without milk.

A Word From Verywell

When choosing foods to replace dairy in your child's diet, first consider what your child likes and then look for the most nutrient-dense varieties of those foods you can find. Nutrient-rich options abound! While it may take a bit more purposeful planning, once you know where to look, you'll find plenty of delicious, dairy-free foods to ensure your child gets proper nutrition.

Also remember that as a parent or caregiver, it's your job to provide your child with a variety of nutrient-rich foods, but it's your child's job to decide what and how much they eat. It can take a while for a toddler or child to have enough exposure to different foods to feel safe to try them. If your child isn't eating calcium- or vitamin D-rich foods throughout the day, talk to their pediatrician about supplementing as you introduce more variety and they explore new foods.

Was this page helpful?
5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Schwarzenberg SJ, Georgieff MK, Nutrition CO. Advocacy for improving nutrition in the first 1000 days to support childhood development and adult health. Pediatrics. 2018;141(2). doi:10.1542/peds.2017-3716

  2. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Calcium: Fact sheet for health professionals. Updated March 26, 2020.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Vitamin D and sun exposure. December 1, 2011.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Dietary supplements for toddlers. June 22, 2017.

  5. American Heart Association. Dietary recommendations for healthy children. April 16, 2018.