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Calcium: The Backbone of Healthy Development

This article written by University of Illinois dietetic intern, Carli Liguori.

We know that childhood is a very important time for growth. Kids are exploring their environments and making sense of the world around them. What they experience can have a big impact on their future choices. This is true for nutrition, too! Children are learning what foods they like and what ones they would rather avoid. Parents are tasked with providing nutritious meals that will help their children’s minds and bodies grow strong. Calcium is important for all of us, but it is especially beneficial for children and young adults. Did you know that our bodies are able to absorb calcium best when we are young? That is why it is so important for kids to get as much calcium as they can during those early years.

Calcium plays many roles in the body. Here are two of the most important:

1. Building healthy bones

  • Our bones are made, in part, of calcium. Getting enough calcium in our diet is essential to make bones that are strong and sturdy. Healthy bones are more resistant to fracture and keep us active throughout our lives!

2. Muscle and heart health

  • Calcium helps our muscles to contract and helps us maintain a healthy blood pressure. This is important to keep kids (and kids at heart) strong and promote play throughout the lifespan. Calcium helps us lay a strong foundation for life long health.

Adding more calcium to your family’s diet is simple! Calcium can be found in many foods:

  • Dairy products are one of the best sources of calcium. Dairy includes things like milk, cheese, and yogurt. If someone in your family has a lactose allergy or prefers not to eat dairy products, items such as soy or almond milk can be good alternatives.
  • Dark green vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli are another source of calcium. No matter what you and family like to eat, there are ways to include calcium at every meal.

Growing children need 3-4 cups of milk each day to make sure they are getting enough calcium. That may seem like a lot, but it can be easy to add calcium rich foods to your diet. Try making a smoothie with milk, berries, and spinach or a yogurt parfait for breakfast. Sprinkle some shredded cheese on your salad, or have a glass of milk with lunch. Add some color to your dinner plate with a side dish of sautéed collard greens or roasted broccoli. With these tips, your family will be well on their way to getting the calcium they need for a healthy childhood and beyond!