Child and Adult Care Food Program

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium provides the structure of bone and teeth. Because children's bones must lengthen for them to grow, calcium is a critical nutrient during childhood. Children need two to four times more calcium for their body weight than adults need. The calcium that is stored during the childhood years is vital to the health and well being of that person throughout life.

Let's illustrate this concept with an example. What if you were told that you could only save money in the bank until you were 30 years of age? You would not be able to "bank" any more savings after that age. How do you think your saving and spending habits would change? Most of us would be extremely careful and put as much money into the bank as possible before we were 30 years old.

Our calcium stores are very much like this example. According to the American Dietetic Association, our bodies have the ability to store calcium in our bones until we are about age 30. After that age, we must depend on the calcium that we eat in our food, or we must "withdraw" calcium from our skeleton's "savings account." The denser the bones are in childhood, the better prepared a person will be to support teen growth and still withstand the inevitable bone losses of later life. Perhaps you can now see the importance of eating adequate amounts of calcium-rich foods during the childhood years.

Beside building healthy bones and teeth, calcium also contributes to other necessary bodily functions such as muscle use, nerve transmission, blood clotting, and blood pressure regulation.

Milk is the primary source of calcium in a child's diet. That is why milk is a required meal component in the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP). It is a good practice to offer milk and other calcium-rich foods often for snacks as well. Other dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese also provide calcium. Some dark green vegetables - broccoli, kale, beet greens, turnip greens, collard greens, and mustard greens - contain calcium as well. Other foods are also good sources of calcium: canned salmon with the soft bones included, oysters, and blackstrap molasses.

Calcium is best absorbed when vitamin D is present in the same meal or snack. Fluid milk is fortified with vitamin D, so it is the primary source of these nutrients in children's diets. Additionally, a person's skin can make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.

Good Sources of Calcium from Each Meal Component

Bread / Bread Alternates Meat / Meat Alternates Milk Fruits Vegetables
Not a good source of calcium
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Canned salmon
  • Canned
  • Sardines
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Dried beans
  • Dried peas
  • Dried lentils
  • Skim milk
  • Low-fat milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Chocolate milk
  • Whole milk
Calcium-fortified fruit juices
  • Broccoli
  • Turnip greens
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Beet greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Dried beans
  • Dried peas
  • Dried lentils

Cooking In The Classroom

Children love to prepare foods, and they are more likely to try a new food when they prepare it themselves. Using picture recipes can help children to feel independent and capable. This recipe for Yogurt Smoothies can be easily made in the classroom with minimal help from the kitchen staff.

When made for a snack, each serving counts as one meat alternate and one fruit. For 1&2 year old children, use 1/2 cup yogurt and 1/4 c fruit. For 3 through 5 year old children, use 3/4 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup fruit. Use mashed or purred fruits - bananas, pineapple, strawberries, peaches - or even a combination of fruits. This is a good use for honey that is provided as a commodity food. (Remember, though, that honey should not be served to infants under one year of age.) Sugar can be substituted for honey by adding it to the fruit prior to mixing with the yogurt.

Yogurt Smoothies

Prepare a picture recipe for the children to mix their own smoothie. Each serving counts as one meat alternate and one fruit for snack.

  1. Measure yogurt (1/2 cup for 1 & 2 year olds; 3/4 cup for 3 through 5 year olds)
  2. Add pureed fruit such as peaches, bananas, or strawberries (1/4 cup for 1 & 2 year olds; 1/2 cup for 3 through 5 year olds)
  3. Add 1 tablespoon honey
  4. Mix well with a spoon

Occasionally children will go through a time when they do not drink much milk. Generally, if an issue is not made of it, the child will eventually go back to drinking milk. When the caregiver discusses it or tries to force a child to drink the milk, the child is reminded and taught that she doesn't like milk. She might even feel she has to avoid milk to live up to her new reputation as a child who doesn't drink milk. Left alone, the child will probably drink milk again. In the meantime, serve the child a small portion of milk and do not comment on the amount she drinks.

Some children have difficulty digesting milk sugar (lactose), and they will get intestinal gas or diarrhea when they drink milk. This can be due to a lactose intolerance or simply a temporary problem following a bout with diarrhea. Lactose intolerance is more common in African Americans, Mexicans, Southeast Asians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and Native Americans. For these children, smaller servings of regular milk with meals may be tolerated. If not, a lactose-reduced milk can replace regular milk. Lactose-reduced milk is a specially prepared milk and is not the same as Sweet Acidophilus milk. A child with lactose intolerance may also be able to tolerate yogurt and cheeses, especially hard cheeses such as cheddar.

Sample STEPs To Increase Calcium Intake

Strategy: Increase calcium intake by offering leafy green vegetables often on your menu. Serve steamed spinach, turnip greens, kale, collards and mustard greens.

Teaching children: Introduce the children to spinach dip at a tasting party in the classroom. Show them raw spinach and let the children name all the other foods that they eat which are leaves (lettuce, cabbage, collards, etc.)

Tasty Spinach Dip

  • 1- 10 ounce box of frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
  • 1 package of Knorr vegetable soup mix
  • 1 - 16 ounce carton of non-fat or low-fat plain yogurt

Drain spinach well. You may need to use a paper towel to pat all of the water out. Mix the spinach, vegetable soup mix and yogurt together. Serve with pieces of raw vegetables or crackers.

Educating families: Give families a copy of the spinach dip recipe used in the classroom. Include information in your newsletters about appropriate beverages to serve preschoolers and recommended amounts of milk. Put up posters at adult eye level of calcium-rich foods.

Planning for change: Using the information in this section, provide a training for your staff about the important role milk plays in the preschooler's diet. During the training, be sure to familiarize the staff with the newsletter "Building Strong Bones" prior to sending it home to families so that they can answer any questions family members may have. Let the staff help you find ways to serve more foods that are made with milk.

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