According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines from the FDA, consuming milk and milk products is associated with improved bone health in children and adolescents. This is so important at a young age because the bone mass developed throughout childhood and adolescence contributes to lifelong skeletal health. It can help prevent fractures and osteoporosis later in life.
Let’s take a look at how milk and milk products improve bone health. Milk and milk products such as yogurt and cheese are rich sources of calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is a mineral that is essential for building strong bones and vitamin D is needed to absorb the calcium.
Unfortunately, most American youths from ages four to 18 consume less than the recommended amounts of milk, and even some younger children are not drinking enough milk. Keep in mind the recommended servings of milk/dairy products will ensure that your child meets the majority of his or her calcium and vitamin D needs. And all age groups should be drinking fat-free or low-fat milk products.
The good news is that there are other sources of calcium besides milk. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli provide calcium. Other sources of vitamin D include whole eggs, tuna and salmon.
The National Dairy Council recommends these five tips to help children and adolescents develop eating behaviors that include dairy consumption:
- Offer a variety of dairy foods. In addition to the above-mentioned foods, flavored low-fat milks and drinkable yogurts are other suggestions. Other options include calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice, rice, breakfast cereals and breakfast bars.
- Have kids take “ownership” in their nutrition. Kids may eat more cheese if allowed to choose their favorite kinds at the grocery store or, if allowed to help prepare their own snack by cutting cheese into fun shapes.
- Provide calcium-rich snacks for added nutrition. Instead of serving empty-calorie snack foods such as chips, cookies and soda pop, offer kids snack packs of yogurt, cheese cubes or smoothies made with fruit, milk and/or yogurt.
- Model healthy eating. Children tend to drink more milk when parents frequently consume milk. In addition, frequency of milk consumption during childhood has been found to be the strongest predictor of milk intake in adults.
- Protect family mealtime. Although difficult to do in families with kids who play sports, it is important to eat together as often as possible. Studies show that kids who eat dinner with their families at home have a better quality diet than those who do not, including higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, grains and calcium-rich foods (and lower intakes of sugary soft drinks).