The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating dairy foods everyday. The foods in this group are excellent sources of calcium, which is important for strong, healthy bones. Not many other foods in our diet contain as much calcium as dairy foods. They also provide important nutrients such as protein, iodine, riboflavin and Vitamin B12. The best choices for children over two years of age are low or reduced-fat dairy products.
Why do kids need dairy?
Dairy foods are the main source of calcium – a nutrient we all need for strong bones and teeth. In fact, the most recent Australian National Children’s Nutrition Survey revealed that 77 per cent of girls and 64 per cent of boys aged 12 to 15 years old are not consuming the recommended daily requirement for calcium. So it’s important to encourage the consumption of healthy calcium-rich foods in children.
Why do we need calcium?
Think of your bones as a bank for calcium. If calcium is not deposited into the bank, it will be taken out and used in other areas of the body when needed, which can result in weak, brittle bones. Bones reach their peak density somewhere around age 20-25, so it’s important that calcium is consumed regularly throughout childhood, the teen years and even into the twenties and beyond to ensure bones are at their strongest.
Examples of dairy:
• Other milk-based products such as ice cream, fromage frais and dessert style custards or mousse do provide some calcium from milk, however they are likely to be high in saturated fat and sugar so they should not be eaten regularly.
• Alternatives such as soy, rice or almond milk. If you purchase alternatives to cow’s milk, always choose products that are fortified with calcium. Check the ingredients list to be sure.
How many serves of dairy do children need to eat every day?
• Children up to 8 years old: 1½ – 2 serves,
• Older children and adolescents: 2½ – 3½ serves
Older children and adolescents need more as they are growing quickly and need extra calcium to maintain strong teeth and bones.
What is a serve?
One 250ml glass of fresh, UHT long life, or powdered milk
One 200g tub of plain or flavoured yoghurt
Two slices (40g) of cheese
Half a cup (120g) of ricotta cheese
Half a cup (120mL) evaporated milk
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating suggests only eating 2-3 serves of full fat cheese each week, as while it does provide lots of calcium and protein, it also contains a lot of saturated fat and salt, so serves should be limited. It’s best to choose reduced or low fat dairy products whenever possible.
The Australian National Nutrition Survey showed that only 1 in 5 Australia kids are receiving their recommended daily serve or dairy. Teenage girls and boys, especially, are not eating enough dairy products.
To increase your children’s dairy intake:
- Grate fat-reduced cheese and add it to dinner meals such as pasta
- Put a dollop of fat-reduced yoghurt on top of chopped up fruit
- Make a smoothie with frozen fruit and skim milk as an after-school snack