Following a dairy-free diet can seem daunting at first, but it needn’t be, as your kids can still enjoy great tastes and textures even with a milk protein allergy or dairy intolerance. We all know there are some great dairy-free alternatives to milk, cream, ice-cream, butter and yoghurt out there, but many are overly-processed and do not contain much calcium or other bone-building nutrients. Luckily Mother Nature provides lots of dairy-free foods naturally rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K, which your kids will love and thrive on.
A child’s daily intake of calcium should be 350-550mg for little people and 800-1,000mg for the older child or teenager. Dairy is the most common food source of calcium, but by no means the only or even the best food source. There are many nutritious and dairy-free foods that are an excellent source. Here’s our top 10 calcium-rich real-foods for that dairy-free calcium boost to keep bones strong.
1. Oatmeal/Oat Porridge/Oatbran – 54mg calcium per 100g
Oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They’re a whole grain and a great source of important vitamins, minerals and gut-friendly fibre. As well as giving a great calcium boost, oats, oat flour, oat bran and oatmeal also have many other health benefits including helping to balance blood sugar levels and can help your kids feel fuller for longer. Oat milk is a good source of calcium for young children.
2. Almonds – 264mg calcium per 100g
Almonds are a great source of calcium and protein. They also contain important nutrients including vitamin E, selenium, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins, especially folate and biotin (vitamin B7). Shop-bought almond milk alternatives tend to contain very few almonds (as little as 1 percent) and is therefore not a reliable source of calcium for growing kids. Almond nut butter, ground almonds or home-made almond milk on the other hand, are great choices for the dairy-free child.
3. Tinned Oily Fish – Pilchards – 387mg calcium per 100g, Sardines – 382mg calcium per 100g, Wild Alaskan Salmon – 277mg calcium per 100g
‘Bony fish’ such as tinned sardines and pilchards provide a great source of calcium. Sardines are one of the healthiest fish to eat – along with calcium, they also provide a hefty dose of omega-3 and vitamin D which enhances the digestion of the calcium and make it more usable by the body.
4. Chia Seeds – 631mg calcium per 100g
Chia seeds are one of the most calcium-dense foods and just a heaped tablespoon a day can help to maintain a child’s calcium levels. These super little seeds also contain more omega-3s than a serving of walnuts and as many antioxidants as blueberries.
5. Other Seeds – Sesame seeds – 975mg calcium per 100g, Sunflower seeds – 78mg calcium per 100g
Sesame Seeds are not only a great source of calcium but are also full of magnesium, copper and zinc that are all needed to support optimal health. They are also very protein dense and rich in omega-3, which is one of the building blocks for a sharp brain and upbeat mood. These super seeds are also naturally rich in gentle dietary fibre and so are also beneficial for gut health.
Sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of vitamin E and a very good source of copper and vitamin B1. In addition, sunflower seeds are a good source of manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6, folate and niacin.
6. Leafy Greens – Kale 150mg calcium per 100g, Broccoli 40mg per 100g, Spring Greens 74mg per 100g
Vegetables high in calcium include spinach, kale, pak choi, okra, chard, and broccoli. These leaves also contain vitamin K, which is an important bone nutrient. They are also rich in vitamin C which plays an important role in supporting the formation of collagen for blood vessels, bone, cartilage, gums, skin and teeth, whilst also supporting the immune system and increasing iron absorption.
7. Eggs – 64mg calcium per 100g
Eggs are a fabulous ‘convenience’ food, and a natural source of calcium and protein, as well as rich in vitamin B2, B12 and D.
8. Beef – 41mg calcium per 100g
Beef is a good source of high-quality protein, iron and B vitamins but is also full of flavour. But it’s not just a one-dish ingredient – the wide range of cuts available, from expensive steaks to the much more affordable brisket, mean it’s pretty versatile.
9. Vegetables – Peas 59mg calcium per 100g, Carrots 36mg calcium per 100g.
We all know that eating a variety of fruit and vegetables is important for good health – but did you know even the ‘standard’ family veggies can pack a punch when it comes to a calcium boost. Nutrient-rich Broccoli is also a good source of fibre and protein, and contains iron, potassium, selenium and magnesium as well as the vitamins A, C, E, K and a good array of B vitamins including folic acid. Carrots also hold their own as one of the most versatile root vegetables around – a result of their sweet flavour, which means they’re great raw or cooked, in sweet or savoury dishes.
10. Dried Fruit – 19mg+ calcium per 100g
Dried fruits contain more calcium by weight than fresh, with dried apricots, seedless raisins, dried plums and dried pears being some of the best for a boost. These fruits also make the perfect portable snack. Try these Apricot & Pumpkin Seed Snacks.
If you are stuck for healthy dairy-free recipes, then look out for my new family cookbook The Good Stuff which shares over 100 healthy and delicious recipes, all with clever dairy-free swaps for those kids with allergies, food intolerances or for those who simply do better on a lower-dairy diet. These are all nutrient-dense to ensure your kids get the best nutrition possible whilst being dairy-free.