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Ensuring Your Kids Get Enough Vegan Calcium on a Plant-Based Diet

As a parent, it’s essential to make sure your children are getting all the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. One nutrient that often comes up in conversations about vegan diets is calcium. Many people believe that dairy is the only reliable source of calcium, but that’s simply not true. While calcium is indeed crucial for strong, healthy bones and proper heart and muscle function, it can be obtained from a variety of plant-based sources.

How Much Calcium Do Kids Need?

The amount of calcium children need varies by age:

  • Kids up to 3 years old: 500 milligrams per day 
  • Kids 4-8 years old: 700 milligrams per day
  • Kids 9-13 years old: 1000 milligrams per day 
  • Teenagers 14-18 years old: 1300 milligrams per day

As a general rule, I’ve found that younger kids up to 8 years old need 1-2 significant calcium sources per day, preteens need 2-3 servings, and teenagers require a solid 3 servings of high-calcium foods daily. The rest of their calcium needs can typically be met through a balanced vegan diet with whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits.

Do Vegan Kids Need Plant-Based Milk?

Once weaned, children don’t necessarily need to drink any type of milk, plant-based or otherwise. However, fortified plant-based milks can be one of the easiest ways to ensure your kids get enough calcium. If your children happily eat other vegan calcium-rich foods like greens, tahini, chia seeds, and tofu, then they may not need plant milk. But many kids are picky eaters, so a fortified plant milk can be a convenient solution.

When choosing a plant milk, I recommend a fortified soy milk. Look for one with around 100mg of calcium per 100ml serving. Soy milk is higher in protein and fat compared to options like almond milk, which is important for kids’ growth and satiety. Oat and pea milk can also work if fortified with calcium. Avoid relying on almond milk, as it’s very low in protein, fat, and overall nutrition.

Other Vegan Calcium-Rich Foods for Kids

In addition to fortified plant milks, incorporate these foods to boost your child’s calcium intake:

  1. Tofu: 300mg calcium per 100g (both calcium-set and magnesium-set tofu are good sources)
  2. Tahini: 350mg calcium per 2 tablespoons (try my kid-friendly tahini cookie recipe to help them acquire a taste for it!)
  3. Chia seeds: 90mg calcium per tablespoon (great in chia pudding or overnight oats)
  4. Fortified cereals: For example, Cheerios have 200mg calcium per 1/2 cup serving 
  5. Cooked greens: Broccoli, kale, bok choy, and baby spinach are great options. The calcium in greens is easily absorbed.

While foods like almonds, molasses, beans, and oranges contain some calcium, the amounts are relatively small. Consider them beneficial additions to the diet, but not significant calcium sources on their own.

Making Nutrition Enjoyable for Kids

For those dealing with picky eaters, don’t worry! There are clever ways to incorporate calcium into their diet without them even noticing. Think tahini cookies or chia seed puddings – these can be fun and tasty ways to ensure they’re getting the calcium they need.

Ensuring your child gets one to three servings of high-calcium foods daily is key. This might sound challenging, but with a variety of legumes, vegetables, and fortified foods, it’s entirely possible to maintain strong and healthy bones in your kids without dairy. For those who might struggle with picky eaters or just want to make sure they’re covering all bases, plant-based milks enriched with calcium can be a simple and effective solution.

Calcium is an essential nutrient for growing children, but it doesn’t have to come from dairy. By incorporating a variety of calcium-rich plant foods, especially fortified soy milk, tofu, tahini, chia seeds, and greens, you can ensure your vegan kids are building strong bones for life.

Here to Support Your Vegan Journey

If you’re feeling unsure or need a bit more guidance, I’m here for you. My recipe book, “Super Boosted Vegan Snacks,” is coming out soon in April. It’s filled with snacks that are not only tasty but also packed with nutrients to keep your kids healthy and happy. Also, I’ve recently started offering one-on-one sessions to help families personalize their children’s diets to ensure they’re getting all the essential nutrients from plant-based foods. These sessions are designed to assess your child’s current diet and find delicious, nutrient-rich alternatives they’ll love. Lastly, if you’re looking for a community of vegan parents, you can join my Facebook group. We provide support and share resources that would be a big help for you and your vegan family.

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