Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies, serving primarily to support and strengthen our bones but also playing a role in vascular contraction, nerve impulse transmission and hormone secretion. For our bodies to absorb calcium, we also need vitamin D which is available through certain foods (like fatty fish and fortified dairy products) but is most reliably obtained via synthesis after our skin is exposed to sunlight. To continue to strengthen our bones, weight-bearing exercise is vital. All the more reason to get outside and play at least 30-60 minutes each day!

Most of our bone mass is laid down during childhood and adolescence so it is important to ensure that our children are getting enough dietary calcium. There is a well-established inverse relationship between calcium intake and fracture risk throughout our lifetimes. Adequate calcium intake also helps to lower the risk of developing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

Toddlers and elementary school aged kids need 3 servings (1000mg) of calcium containing foods/drinks every day; students in middle school and high school need 4 servings (1200-1500mg) daily. Dairy products are the primary source of calcium in American diets–milk, yogurt, cheese–but other foods/drinks also contain calcium–soybeans and soy products (e.g. tofu), calcium enriched juices, breads and cereals and some leafy greens (e.g. collard greens, bok choy).

Food labels are written with 1000 mg of calcium as the recommended daily intake. For example, if you read a milk label that says one serving provides 30% calcium, it means that one serving provides 333 mg. See the table below for more information regarding serving equivalents for dairy products.

In addition to encouraging milk as the beverage of choice with meals, try a yogurt smoothie for breakfast or as an afterschool snack. It is easy, delicious, filling and nutritious (providing calcium, protein and fruit):

  • 1 cup calcium fortified orange juice
  • 1 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt (*if you’d like to get in more protein, use Greek yogurt)
  • 1 cup frozen fruit

Blend until smooth. You can thin it by adding a little more orange juice or make it thicker by adding more fruit.

Each serving contains approximately 330 mg calcium, 6 g protein, a fruit serving and 200 calories.

Yield: 2 cups (2 servings)

Amount That Counts as a Cup in the Dairy Group Common Portions and Cup Equivalents

(choose fat-free or low-fat milk)

1 cup milk
1 half-pint container milk
½ cup evaporated milk

(choose fat-free or low-fat yogurt)

1 regular container

(8 fluid ounces)

1 small container

(6 ounces) = ¾ cup

1 cup yogurt 1 snack size container

(4 ounces) = ½ cup


(choose reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses)

1 ½ ounces hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan) 1 slice of hard cheese is equivalent to ½ cup milk
⅓ cup shredded cheese
2 ounces processed cheese (American) 1 slice of processed cheese is equivalent to ⅓ cup milk
½ cup ricotta cheese
2 cups cottage cheese ½ cup cottage cheese is equivalent to ¼ cup milk
Milk-based desserts

(choose fat-free or low-fat types)

1 cup pudding made with milk
1 cup frozen yogurt
1 ½ cups ice cream 1 scoop ice cream is equivalent to ⅓ cup milk

(soy beverage)

1 cup calcium-fortified soymilk
1 half-pint container calcium-fortified soymilk


– Megan Richardson, Family Nurse Practitioner

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