Following a dairy-free diet can seem daunting at first, but it needn’t be, as your kids can still enjoy great tastes and textures even with a milk protein allergy or dairy intolerance. We all know there are some great dairy-free alternatives to milk, cream, ice-cream, butter and yoghurt out there, but many are overly-processed and do not contain much calcium or other bone-building nutrients. Luckily Mother Nature provides lots of dairy-free foods naturally rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K, which your kids will love and thrive on.
A child’s daily intake of calcium should be 350-550mg for little people and 800-1,000mg for the older child or teenager. Dairy is the most common food source of calcium, but by no means the only or even the best food source. There are many nutritious and dairy-free foods that are an excellent source. Here’s our top 10 calcium-rich real-foods for that dairy-free calcium boost to keep bones strong.
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1. Oatmeal/Oat Porridge/Oatbran – 54mg calcium per 100g
Oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They’re a whole grain and a great source of important vitamins, minerals and gut-friendly fibre. As well as giving a great calcium boost, oats, oat flour, oat bran and oatmeal also have many other health benefits including helping to balance blood sugar levels and can help your kids feel fuller for longer. Oat milk is a good source of calcium for young children.
Oats are of course most commonly the basis of porridge, so try out this Cinnamon Apple Flax Porridge for a great start to the day. Oats can also be added to flapjacks, muffins, granola bars and other baked goodies.
2. Almonds – 264mg calcium per 100g
Almonds are a great source of calcium and protein. They also contain important nutrients including vitamin E, selenium, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins, especially folate and biotin (vitamin B7). Shop-bought almond milk alternatives tend to contain very few almonds (as little as 1 percent) and is therefore not a reliable source of calcium for growing kids. Almond nut butter, ground almonds or home-made almond milk on the other hand, are great choices for the dairy-free child.
Ground almonds can be used in pancakes and baking and are super versatile. Why not try out this delicious Almond Chocco Milkshake, it’s bursting with healthy ingredients and it is incredibly filling. Dairy-free, yet full of calcium, it tastes lovely and creamy and is the perfect answer to a healthy guilt-free sweet treat for your child.
3. Tinned Oily Fish – eg. Pilchards – 387mg calcium per 100g, Sardines – 382mg/100g
‘Bony fish’ such as tinned sardines and pilchards provide a great source of calcium. Sardines are one of the healthiest fish to eat – along with calcium, they also provide a hefty dose of omega-3 and vitamin D which enhances the digestion of the calcium and make it more usable by the body.
Tinned oily fish are a great store cupboard essential and are perfect on toast, in pasta dishes, in salads or in homemade fishcakes.
4. Chia Seeds – 631mg calcium per 100g
Chia seeds are one of the most calcium-dense foods and just a heaped tablespoon a day can help to maintain a child’s calcium levels. These super little seeds also contain more omega-3s than a serving of walnuts and as many antioxidants as blueberries.
Chia seeds blend really well into smoothies and hide well as they have almost no taste. White chia seeds are best used in pale coloured foods such as porridge and the dark ones are great blended into berry smoothies. Here’s a great Raspberry Chia Smoothie recipe to try.
5. Other Seeds – Sesame seeds – 975mg calcium per 100g, Sunflower seeds – 78mg/100g
Sesame Seeds are not only a great source of calcium but are also full of magnesium, copper and zinc that are all needed to support optimal health. They are also very protein dense and rich in omega-3, which is one of the building blocks for a sharp brain and upbeat mood. These super seeds are also naturally rich in gentle dietary fibre and so are also beneficial for gut health.
Sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of vitamin E and a very good source of copper and vitamin B1. In addition, sunflower seeds are a good source of manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6, folate and niacin.
Why not try this yummy Tahini Bread that is not only delicious but also gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, sugar-free, yeast-free AND nut-free! Other sesame options to try are tahini hummus, Japanese sesame crackers or sesame pasta. They’re also great sprinkled as a crispy topping for pies, fruit salads, breakfast cereals & salads. Try adding sunflower seeds as a garnish to mixed green salads, scrambled eggs to give them a unique taste and texture or sprinkle onto porridge.
6. Leafy Greens – Kale 150mg calcium per 100g, Broccoli 40mg/100g, Spring Greens 74mg/100g
Vegetables high in calcium include spinach, kale, pak choi, okra, chard, and broccoli. These leaves also contain vitamin K, which is an important bone nutrient. They are also rich in vitamin C which plays an important role in supporting the formation of collagen for blood vessels, bone, cartilage, gums, skin and teeth, whilst also supporting the immune system and increasing iron absorption.
Try adding leafy greens to a host of dishes from blending into sauces, soups and smoothies to chopped up in snacks and salads, as well as casseroles and omelettes.
7. Eggs – 64mg calcium per 100g
Eggs are a fabulous ‘convenience’ food, and a natural source of calcium and protein, as well as rich in vitamin B2, B12 and D.
Eggs are hugely versatile and can be used in any meal of the day. Scramble, boil, poach, bake or use in puddings, cakes and sauces. Why not try these Brain Boost Buckwheat Pancakes for a great healthy way to start the day.
8. Beef – 41mg calcium per 100g
Beef is a good source of high-quality protein, iron and B vitamins but is also full of flavour. But it’s not just a one-dish ingredient – the wide range of cuts available, from expensive steaks to the much more affordable brisket, mean it’s pretty versatile.
Beef is perfect for your family Sunday roast, stir-fry or the classic spaghetti bolognese.
9. Vegetables – Peas 59mg calcium per 100g, Carrots 36mg/100g
We all know that eating a variety of fruit and vegetables is important for good health – but did you know even the ‘standard’ family veggies can pack a punch when it comes to a calcium boost. Nutrient-rich Broccoli is also a good source of fibre and protein, and contains iron, potassium, selenium and magnesium as well as the vitamins A, C, E, K and a good array of B vitamins including folic acid. Carrots also hold their own as one of the most versatile root vegetables around – a result of their sweet flavour, which means they’re great raw or cooked, in sweet or savoury dishes.
10. Dried Fruit – 19mg+ calcium per 100g
Dried fruits contain more calcium by weight than fresh, with dried apricots, seedless raisins, dried plums and dried pears being some of the best for a boost. These fruits also make the perfect portable snack. Try these Apricot & Pumpkin Seed Snacks
If you are stuck for healthy dairy-free recipes, then look out for my new family cookbook The Good Stuff which shares over 100 healthy and delicious recipes, all with clever dairy-free swaps for those kids with allergies, food intolerances or for those who simply do better on a lower-dairy diet. These are all nutrient-dense to ensure your kids get the best nutrition possible whilst being dairy-free.