Calcium, Iron & Protein for Healthy Toddlers

calcium and your toddler

Calcium and Your Toddler

Once baby has been weaned from formula or breast milk and enters into Toddlerhood, many parents find themselves worried over the proper amount of dairy/milk intake. It is hard to let go of the fact that when baby was nursing/bottle feeding, baby was consuming many ounces of breast milk or formula.

Remember this, milk is not intended to provide for the full nutrition of baby as formula or breast milk did.

Calcium is found in so many foods that if baby doesn’t drink milk, that’s not really a bad thing. Cheese is very good for baby and is a good source of calcium as is yogurt. Other foods that contain calcium are:

  • tofu
  • broccoli
  • certain beans such as kidney beans
  • sweet potatoes
  • whole wheat bread
  • fortified orange juice
  • canned salmon

Just check on the labels of any foods you buy and you will be surprised to see calcium!

Toddlers aged 1 year through 2 years do not need as much milk/dairy as one would think. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that 16 ounces of whole milk per day is all your toddler will need. Calcium for Infants & Toddlers (AAP). Toddlers do not need “milk” per se rather, they need the calcium, protein and fat that milk and/or dairy products provide. A toddler should get approximately 800mg of calcium per day – one cup of milk is approximately 300mg of calcium.

quick tip for toddlersQUICK TIP

Calcium does not need to come from a glass of whole cow milk. Try cheese, broccoli or even soy milk to help meet your Toddler’s Calcium needs!

Always serve whole milk to your Toddler until you are otherwise advised to do so!

The AAP continues to recommend offering your Toddler whole milk (not 2% or 1% or skim) until your Toddler reaches age 2 years old!   “Since babies need fat in their diets for development, they should drink whole milk until their second birthdays. Then, if growth is steady, you can switch to low-fat or nonfat milk”.  As always, we recommend that you discuss the options thoroughly with your Toddler’s pediatrician!


It is important to note that Toddlers who consume far more than the recommended daily allowance of calcium may be at a greater risk of iron deficient anemia than those Toddlers who drink the recommended amounts.  Milk and Calcium have been shown to hinder the absorption of Iron.  Toddlers are at risk for Iron deficient anemia due to their overall eating habits and the lack of continual Iron being received from breastmilk and/or infant formula.

“Iron is a vital component of hemoglobin, the carrier of oxygen in the blood. As a young child grows, blood volume increases, and so does the need for iron. Preschoolers and toddlers typically eat less iron-rich foods than they did in infancy. In addition, the iron that children get is usually non-heme iron (from plant sources), which has a lower availability than heme iron (from animal sources). As a result, children up to three years of age are at high risk for iron-deficiency anemia. The RDA for iron for both toddlers and preschoolers is ten milligrams (mg) per day.”

Some Iron rich foods are outlined below:

  • dried beans
  • winter squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • broccoli
  • mushrooms
  • meat & poultry (beef, beef & chicken liver, pork, turkey, chicken)
  • greens (spinach, broccoli, beet, tomato )
  • egg yolks
  • dried fruit (figs, apricots, prunes, raisins)
  • prune juice
  • tofu
  • grains (cooked cracked wheat, wheat germ, cornmeal, millet, brown rice, farina, bran, breads, iron fortified cereals)
  • blackstrap molasses
  • brewer’s yeast
    shellfish (clams, oysters, shrimp – only after age 2 yrs or older, consult your pediatrician!)
  • tuna, sardines, canned salmon

Protein and your toddler

Protein is crucial to ensuring the proper and healthy growth of toddlers (and preschoolers), Try to serve a protein at EVERY meal and if you are able to, sneak it into snack time as well!  You should attempt to feed your Toddler 16 grams of protein per day – some nutritionists suggest that 16 ounces of milk along with one ounce of meat should ensure the proper daily intake of protein.

Vitamins and Minerals your toddler needs

Among the most important vitamins that your Toddler needs are

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Folate and
  • Zinc.

Vitamin A is found in: carrots, avocados, spinach, yellow/orange fruits and vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi, prunes, papaya, liver, eggs, milk and milk products, and the spice  paprika.  It is a  a fat-soluble vitamin that plays essential roles in vision, growth, and development; the development and maintenance of healthy skin, hair, and mucous membranes; immune functions; and reproduction.

Vitamin C is found in: green and red peppers, avocados, banana, cabbage, kiwi, turnip greens, kale, collards, parsley, sprouted alfalfa seeds, broccoli, tomatoes, mango lemons, orange peel, black currants, acerola cherries, cantaloupe, strawberries, citrus fruits, rose hips.  It is a water-soluble, antioxidant vitamin. It is important in forming collagen, a protein that gives structure to bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels. Vitamin C also aids in the absorption of iron, and helps maintain capillaries, bones, and teeth. Vitamin C is said to help with colds and remove free radicals from body.

Vitamin D is found in: salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, organ meats, Vitamin D-fortified milk and milk products, egg yolks, wheat germ.  It helps strengthen bones and is essential for normal growth and development.  Vitamin D is also obtained from sunlight exposure.

Folate is found in Chicken liver, Breakfast cereals, Braised beef liver, Lentils, Chickpeas, Asparagus Spinach, Black beans, Kidney beans, Lima beans, Tomato juice, Brussels sprouts, Oranges, Broccoli, Wheat germ, Fortified white bread. It is a water-soluble vitamin that helps the body form red blood cells and aids in the formation of genetic material within every body cell. It plays a role in reducing blood homosysteine levels and aids in protein metabolism.

Zinc is found in: mushrooms, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, seafood, meats, organ meats, oysters, herring, eggs.  It is important for growth, functioning of immune system, sexual development and reproduction.

Resources & Learning More:

from the the American Society for Nutritional Sciences