Do my children have enough calcium?
I had this question in the back of my mind for a while:
“Do my children have enough Calcium in their diet?”
Something brought recently this question to the front of my mind: a woman who helps me at home slipped and broke a wrist. She is in her fifties and has osteoporosis. Googling it, I found that osteoporosis can be caused by a lack of calcium during childhood.
My children are eating regularly cheese, sometimes yogurt, drinking some milk. I had long assumed that in addition to the calcium found naturally in their non-dairy meals, this was enough to cover their needs.
Surely, you don’t actually expect children to drink one liter (= 4 cups) of milk every day like is recommended by the doctors? I mean, do your children drink that much milk? Mine certainly don’t, especially my oldest daughter (6 years old) who has some lactose intolerance and doesn’t drink more than a quarter of a cup at a time.
About one month ago, I tracked their diet during a few days with Shop’NCook Menu. I made sure to input every single food they ate, measured every bit of cheese, yogurt or milk they had. The result? Their needs in calcium were not covered. Way not.
Non-dairy products were covering less than a quarter of their needs, dairy products maybe another quarter but not even that every day. I had to more than double their calcium intake.
I took action in three ways:
- Introduce non-dairy products with higher calcium content in the diet;
- Increase the intake of dairy products;
- Make the children responsible of monitoring their own calcium intake.
1. Introducing non-dairy products with higher calcium content
I started replacing products with low-calcium content by similar products with higher calcium content:
- whole-wheat bread and pasta instead of bread and pasta made with white flour, since whole wheat flour has more than twice the calcium content of white flour;
- orange juice with calcium instead of plain orange juice;
- tahini (sesame paste) instead of peanut butter;
- sesame seeds rather than pumpkin or sunflower seeds;
- supplements with minerals and calcium, instead of just vitamins.
2. Increasing dairy products intake
I made sure to give every day at least one dairy snack, like a bowl of cheese dices or a yogurt, and insisted the children drink more milk at breakfast and before sleeping.
The tough part was to get my older daughter take enough calcium without increasing her milk consumption as it gives her stomachache. After some research, I found that lassi (a drink made with 2 part of yogurt and 1 part of water) is a good substitute for milk as it has almost the same calcium contents and bifidus yogurt is usually well supported by persons who have lactose intolerance. The problem: she didn’t like the taste. I started experimenting with different flavors to make it more palatable, and settled finally on 1 tablespoon of sugar and a few drops of lemon essence per glass of lassi. It was a hit and now my daughter enjoys drinking it everyday (and I drink one with her too).
Here is my lemon lassi recipe (from Shop’NCook online recipe database):
Nb persons: 2
Portion size: 3/4 cups
My six-year-old daughter is lactose intolerant. I looked for alternative calcium source. I found out (with Shop’NCook program!) that lassi has almost as high a calcium content as milk. But my daughter didn’t like its plain yogurt taste. I experimented with different flavoring and with her help developped the recipe below that she really enjoys. Tip: DON’T try to flavor lassi with chocolate, yuck!
- 1 cup plain yogurt, (I use acydophilius bifidus)
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp lemon extract, (or to taste)
Blend well with a hand mixer. Serve when foamy.
3. Monitoring of the calcium intake by the children
How do you monitor kids who have free access to the fridge, run all day long and share their food with the neighbor’s kids?
You teach them to monitor themselves. I explained them why they need calcium. Then I designed a simple system to count the calcium intake: I put a paper on the fridge where the children can write points for every days of the week. For each “calcium portion”, they are allowed to write a point. A calcium portion can be:
- 1 small glass of milk (half a cup);
- 1 small glass of lassi (half a cup);
- 1 small glass of calcium-fortified orange juice (half a cup);
- a little bit of cheese like half a mini babybel or two small slices of cheese;
- a pot of yogurt (half a cup);
- 2 slices of whole wheat bread;
- 1 bowl of ice cream (about 3/4 cup).
Nutrition supplement is half a point and they can use it to complete to one point once a day when they take less than a calcium portion of something.
The goal is to have at least 8 points at the end of each day. When they do, they can put a sticker.
My children took enthusiastically to this game and they have been doing it more than three weeks now. They select calcium-rich options when they have the choice (vanilla ice cream over sorbet, whole-wheat bread over white bread, calcium-fortified orange juice over plain orange juice) and even my three years old is talking very knowledgeably of the calcium content of different types of food. Maybe they will continue it a few more weeks. And maybe – who knows! – it will change their eating habits for their lives…
If you have some tips to share on this subject, write them in the post comments. I would love to read them.