Although milk should be a primary food in children's diets, yoghurt, cheese and other dairy products are good alternative sources of daily calcium requirements. These types of foods also enable children to experience new flavours and textures at a point in their growth when learning to diversify their diets is a key.
Because of its high calcium content, children are fed milk from birth. Although their calcium needs in the second six months of life are still met by milk (breast milk or follow-up formula), by diversifying their diets they will start to get the nutrient from other foods. These include certain fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, pulses and especially dairy products.
It is important that children become accustomed to these foods, as from the age of one year they will need between 500 and 800 mg of calcium a day. Keeping in mind that a glass of full cream milk provides 250 to 300 mg, their role is obvious:
- Yoghurt. Children can be fed yoghurt from the age of nine months, starting with the unsweetened plain variety (those made from follow-up formula are suitable from six months). Yoghurt is the best milk substitute. Two tubs of yoghurt are the equivalent of one glass of milk and it is a very healthy food, as it improves digestion and builds up a child's defences.
- Dairy desserts. Another pleasant way of consuming calcium is through milkshakes, custards, dairy desserts, curd, rice pudding and ice cream.
- Cheese and cheese products. Starting from the age of one year you can try lightly fermented cheeses, which are more digestible and have a milder flavour. Curd is a very good option because of its high nutritional value. Highly aged or smelly cheeses are better after the age of three years, although you can use them earlier in cooked dishes.
If your child dislikes dairy products, you can always try to hide them in the dishes you prepare. For example, you can add a little mild cheese to purées, make sauces with yoghurt or sprinkle grated cheese on quiches, pizza and pasta.