By Niki Philippa, RD, PhD, Clinical Dietician at the Center for Children and Youth.

Shopping is an activity that has become much more challenging while we shelter in place. Long lines require us to cultivate patience. Some foods are unavailable, while others, like milk and yogurt, have short shelf lives that don’t fit our families’ needs. With a toddler and a baby at home, I’ve noticed that running to the store has become too difficult for frequent shopping, and this sparked my focus on non-dairy sources of calcium.

Knowing the best non-dairy alternatives could come in handy on your next shopping trip, whether it’s during this time of sheltering in place, or because there family members who simply don’t like milk or dairy, or may experience some form of lactose intolerance.

During childhood, puberty, and adolescence, extra care needs to be taken to support bone growth. After that, bones growth slows, making those early years critical. Calcium is essential for bone formation and maintenance, and over 99% of total body calcium appears as calcium hydroxyapatite in bones and teeth. Unfortunately, data from the 2003 – 2006 NHANES study shows that at least 50% of children of 9 to 18 years of age are taking in less calcium than needed for strong bone formation, even with dairy included in their diet.

Calcium also regulates essential body processes such as muscle function and contraction, nerve signaling, and hormonal secretion. It is so important, in fact, that if we do not meet our daily intake, our body ensures we have enough circulating in our blood by taking calcium out of our bones. So, our diet must be sufficient to replenish our bone stores.

How much calcium do we need? The updated recommended dietary allowance (RDA) per day is:

  • Children 1 – 3 yrs.: 700mg
  • Children 4 – 8 yrs.: 1000mg
  • Children and Teens 9 – 18 yrs.: 1300mg
  • Adults: 1000mg – 1200mg

As a general guideline, one serving of dairy provides about 300mg of calcium. Comparatively, good non- dairy food sources include:

  • 3 oz Tofu = 600mg
  • 4 oz canned sardines/salmon = 300mg
  • 1 cup unsweetened fortified soy milk or orange juice = 300mg
  • 1 oz whey protein powder = 200mg
  • 1 cup cooked spinach/collard greens=250mg
  • ½ cup edamame = 130mg
  • 1 cup navy/ black eyed beans = 125mg
  • 1 Tbs poppy/chia seeds = 130mg
  • 1 Tbs sesame seeds = 90mg
  • 1 cup raw Kale = 90mg
  • 1 oz Almonds = 70mg
  • Fortified Cereal—check the label

Consider which non-dairy source of calcium you and your children might try, or include your children and teens in the menu planning. Adolescents, in particular, like to control their own eating habits. If you are unsure whether you can meet the recommended amount of calcium through diet, supplements are an option when used appropriately.

I hope you are staying as healthy as possible during this global pandemic.

If you need support assessing the health of your family’s nutrient intake or planning weekly healthy and delicious meals, please contact me at the Center for Children and Youth.

The Center for Children and Youth can help you establish healthy family routines, connect with other parents, plan activities at home, and receive critical assistance when you need it most. If you need support or guidance during this time, or are facing other challenges as a parent, we are here for you. Contact us or call 650-688-3046.


  • Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium; Ross AC, Taylor CL, Yaktine AL, et al., editors.Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011.
  • accessed 4/9/20
  • Pediatric Nutrition. American Academy of Pediatrics 8th Edited by Ronald E. Kleinman, MD, FAAP and Frank R. Greer, MD, FAAP. 2019