Happy back to school everyone!
My little guy trotted off to Kindergarten last week and my girl started her 4th grade year. It is hard to understand where the time goes and why it goes so fast! I feel the same way about summer, and the weekends too.
This week I want to focus on the best calcium-rich foods for kids, especially since as they grow, their milk intake becomes less and less and for families like us who avoid dairy as both a dietary preference and allergy restriction. While cheese and yogurt top most calcium-rich food lists, the foods I highlight here are also natural, refined sugar free, dairy free and appeal to a wide range of lifestyles.
Some children (mine) are picky eaters which often requires a lot of trial and error. Children’s tastes also take time to acquire new tastes. This goes both ways – what is liked today may not be liked tomorrow and what is not liked today may be liked tomorrow. My suggestion is to incorporate the following foods into meals they have consistently liked most recently and keep introducing small portions of new foods repeatedly. A “no thank you” bite is sometimes sufficient and enough to get kids over the hump of trying something new. An example in our family is putting a heaping pile of kale in front of my kids is not going to work for the foreseeable future no matter how much I personally love kale and how many times and ways I explain how good it is for them. I am able to put in smoothies, egg dishes and sometimes finely (very, very finely) chopped in soups. I still always get resistance until they take their first bite.
Why is calcium important? We most often associate calcium with bone health but it is important for our whole body function. Up until the teenage years, our bones grow rapidly and calcium is needed to support that growth and maintain strong bones as you age. Calcium also plays an important role in muscle contraction, transmitting messages through the nerves, and the release of hormones. If you aren’t getting enough calcium through your diet, the body takes calcium from the bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones.
Here are 12 ways to boost calcium intake for happy bones and a happy body:
- Greens. Kale and collard green top the list of dark leafy green veggies with the most calcium. Spinach is a contender too although it has some properties which make some of the calcium unavailable for your body to absorb. Google oxalate, which is simply a natural occurring organic acid that can bind minerals and carry them out of your body instead of your body absorbing them. My children do not eat greens willingly, not even in a salad. They don’t even like salad. I make egg frittatas with sauteed spinach or swiss card. I also put spinach or kale in smoothies or finely chop and stir into their favorite soup.
- Sweet potato. There are so many great ways to prepare sweet potatoes that make them appealing to kids. My favorite way is simply roasted, then gently smashed or cut into small cubes with a scoop of apple butter on top. I purchase several jars of apple butter once a year from a local farm. I also melt ghee on top of the sweet potatoes as well and sometimes sprinkle a little bit of coconut palm sugar or a drizzle of honey. If you are avoiding sugar, you can generally find “no sugar added” apple butter as well.
- Almonds. Almond milk is not a great source of calcium but snacking on raw almonds are. Make a homemade snack mix for your kids and include almonds!
- Figs. Of all the dried fruits, dried figs are a good source of calcium. They can be eaten out of the bag, or you can dip them in almond butter or any seed or nut butter tat you prefer. My favorite brand of dried figs are Made In Nature. We have frequently found them at Costco!
- Tofu. Tofu is soy and since many soy products are genetically modified, seek tofu with the non-GMO project label. Tofu can be prepared in a few ways. You can saute it cubed and add to any one pot dish, chop and saute into scrambled eggs, or add it to their favorite smoothie recipe.
- Seeds. Chia seeds, poppy seeds, milled flax seed and sesame seeds all contain calcium. Flax seed and chia easily blend into smoothies. A tablespoon or two of flax can be added to your favorite homemade baked breads or muffins.
- Mulled hemp seeds. Also known as hemp hearts. You can find them at most natural food stores and even Costco. Sprinkle on salads, in yogurt, in cereal, in smoothies. Hemp seeds are also high in protein and healthy fats. I add them to my homemade meatballs along with gluten free bread crumbs.
- Edamame, peas and green beans. Steamed is best!
- Legumes. Beans can also easily be added to many one pot dishes. My kids like eating black beans as a side with homemade quesadillas. White beans can be added to soups and stews, and chick peas are a nice mild alternative as well as making homemade hummus.
- Rhubarb and okra. A little off the beaten path, but there are ways to prepare these foods that children may like. I make strawberry jam with rhubarb with no pectin and honey or coconut palm sugar as the sweetener. If using honey I believe the conversion is if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, you will want to use 1/3 cup of honey. Another fun option is to make a fruit compote which is cooking berries, rhubarb and a splash of orange juice on a saucepan until the fruit is softened and easily mashes. Add additional orange juice to taste. Fruit compote is a great topping for waffles or pancakes. The Minimalist Baker is my favorite go-to for fruit compote. I honestly don’t know what to do with okra, so I will refer you to my favorite food website for kids, Weelicious where she has a recipe for okra nuggets.
- Oranges, tangerines, kiwi and tropical fruit. These are all great options for school lunches!
- Broccoli. Lightly steamed or roasted with a sprinkle of sea salt. If your little one can tolerate dairy, try steamed broccoli dipped in plain yogurt or sprinkle a little shredded or parmesan cheese on top. For vegans, toss broccoli with a little olive or avocado oil, sea salt, pepper and nutritional yeast for a “cheesy” flavor.
After typing up all these food ideas, I am feeling a little hungry. Time for lunch!