Milk. Does it do a body good? It turns out, your toddler may actually benefit from it. A new study found that kids who drink cow’s milk are slightly taller than those who don’t. But don’t sprint to the dairy aisle to buy a gallon (or ten) of milk just yet.
“Taller children and heavier children are not necessarily healthier adults, or even healthier children,” professor of health and wellness Amy Joy Lanou said to CNN. Indeed, height is not a marker for health, and cow’s milk is actually high in saturated fat, can cause stomach and intestinal issues, and has been linked to increased risks in prostate and ovarian cancers. What’s more, plant-based milk alternatives, like coconut, soy or almond milk, contain many of the nutrients found in cow’s milk.
So if your family isn’t currently a big milk consumer, don’t worry. You can give your little one all the nutrients he needs to grow without adding a glass of cow’s milk to his meal plan. Just make sure he gets enough calcium, which is essential for bone growth and development and teeth health. Depending on the age, your toddler needs from 500 to 1,300 milligrams per day.
Here are 8 ways for your little one to bone up on calcium, sans cow’s milk:
1. Yogurt and cheese. Like all dairy products, yogurt and cheese are full of calcium and are thus a great way for your child to end his meal. You can pair cheese with fruits and crackers, or simply offer a yogurt as a dessert. If your toddler isn’t a fan of dairy, there are many ways you can sneak it in his dishes and snacks. You can add cheese to pasta, eggs and other bakes dishes; you can serve yogurt as a dip for fresh fruits; or you can blend cheese into mashed potatoes and meatballs. You can also cook or bake with Greek yogurt to increase calcium content.
2. Green, leafy vegetables. Broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens and bok choy are all touted as great sources of calcium. Spinach is also rich in calcium, but is high in oxalic acid, which interferes with calcium absorption. So it’s best to favor other greens. You can add broccoli to pasta and rice dishes; you can chop kale and bok choy to scrambled eggs; or you can bake kale chips to add a little fun, ahem, crunch to your babe’s snacks.
3. Salmon and sardines. You especially want to get the kinds that have the bones. Don’t worry — the bones are soft and are not a choking hazard. Salmon is also rich in vitamin D, which is crucial to absorb calcium. To make the canned sardines a bit more exciting, you can combine it in a tomato sauce and add it to pasta. You can also substitute tuna for salmon to make a casserole or crab with salmon to make a salmon cake.
4. Nuts and beans. Almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, tahini, and dried beans are all very rich in calcium. So you can offer nuts as a snack, grind almonds into meal or flour to use for baking, or give your toddler almond butter instead of peanut butter. You can add white beans to a soup or grind chickpeas into a spread to dip various vegetables in.
5. Blackstrap molasses. This food is surprisingly rich in various nutrients — from iron to manganese to calcium — and is actually a great food to add to your vegetarian or vegan diet. The fact that it is also rich in iron is a huge plus for your toddler, too. You can add molasses to a pancake batter or any other baked goods.
6. Tofu. Tofu made with calcium sulfate contains more calcium than tofu made with magnesium chloride, or nigari. The beauty of tofu, especially when you are feeding tiny, picky eaters, is that it tastes like whatever you put on it or sauté it in. So it can end up being a favorite, drama-free food around the house. You can pair it with leafy greens or make a tofu-veggie fried rice; or you can combine it with chicken for stir-fry medley. If you’re looking for more snack ideas, you can make fun flavored tofu sticks.
7. Oranges. Sure, oranges are full of vitamin C, but they are very rich in calcium too. You can add fresh oranges to your little one’s diet or give him some orange juice (cut with some water to cut back on sugar content). Just make sure to read the label of the orange juice you buy to make sure it has as much calcium as possible.
8. Vitamin D. Without vitamin D, the body can’t absorb calcium, so it’s crucial that your toddler gets vitamin D, too (up to 400 international unit/day). Hanging out in the sun for a few minutes can provide enough vitamin D to do the trick. But you can also add beef and egg yoke to your toddler’s culinary repertoire.
If you still feel that your child isn’t obtaining the calcium that he needs from dietary sources, please speak to your doctor about adding a multivitamin to their daily routine.