Non-Dairy Nutrient Sources for Children

The calcium, vitamin D and protein provided by milk and its derivatives can be substituted by non-dairy nutrient sources to ensure the requirements of our children. Find out what these foods are.
Non-Dairy Nutrient Sources for Children

Last update: 11 June, 2023

Helping our children to grow, develop strong bones and muscles, and be healthy are some of the tasks we have to attend to as parents or caregivers. For this, we rely on good nutrition. But when they don’t drink milk or its derivatives, what do we do? It’s easy. We replace them with non-dairy nutrient sources that provide the calcium, vitamin D, and protein they need.

Fortunately, there are several food alternatives to dairy that are vehicles for these nutrients. In this article, we’ll give you several lists so you can put the worry aside. The important thing is that they meet your requirements.

Nutritious dairy substitutes for children

We’ve always been told that when our children are young, we should give them milk and other dairy products so that their bones and teeth grow strong and healthy. What we’re not told is that they’re not the only source of calcium and vitamin D, nor are they the only source of protein .

There are several foods that contain these nutrients. So, they become a good alternative for those children who follow a vegan diet plan, are lactose intolerant, are allergic to milk, or simply don’t like the taste of dairy.

Let’s review the best non-dairy nutrient sources!

Non-dairy nutrient sources containing calcium

Almost all the calcium ingested as a child is stored in the bones and teeth. Therefore, adequate intake of this mineral is needed during growth in order to shape bones, repair them, and maintain an adequate level in the blood.

In addition, calcium sources need to be easily digested and accompanied by vitamin D. Children are able to absorb up to 60% of what they consume, as they need it to build their bones.

Dietary calcium intakes for children, according to the National Institute of Health, range from 200 milligrams (mg) to 1300 mg. Children age 1 to 3 require 700 mg of calcium.

What are the main non-dairy sources of calcium? We’ve got the answer.

Canned sardines with bones

According to the USDA nutrition table, one can of sardines (3 ounces) provides 351 milligrams of easily absorbed calcium. To make them more palatable to little ones, they can be prepared as small burgers, in croquettes with vegetables and eggs, and even as pasta sauce.

Calcium-fortified plant-based milks

Almond, soy, or oat milk can be substitutes for cow’s milk. They’re prepared from nuts, legumes, or cereals. According to the USDA, 1 cup (262 grams) contains 482 milligrams of calcium. Therefore, one cup can cover 70% of the daily requirements for a child between 1 and 3 years old.

Meanwhile, one cup (244 grams) of soy milk provides 237 milligrams of calcium, covering 34% of calcium needs. You can mix them with their favorite ingredients such as chocolate, vanilla, or butter.

Green vegetables

Spinach, kale, and broccoli are vehicles of calcium. The Spanish Nutrition Foundation highlights them among the vegetables with the most calcium.

Spinach provides 90 milligrams and broccoli 56 milligrams in a 100-gram serving. Kale provides between 50 to 100 mg of calcium in half a cooked cup.

Regular tofu made with calcium sulfate

Calcium sulfate is a salt that precipitates soy protein, which is then pressed to obtain the famous “vegan cheese”. The use of this salt increases its calcium content.

In 2019, a group of researchers published the high nutritional value of tofu, highlighting its high concentration of calcium. A serving of 122 grams provides 421 milligrams, which also has high absorption.

Calcium-fortified orange juice

Calcium-fortified orange juice makes an important contribution of this mineral. It’s one of children’s favorite non-dairy sources of nutrients. The USDA suggests that 100 milliliters of calcium-fortified orange juice provide 433 milligrams of calcium, which is more than the amount provided by pasteurized cow’s milk.

Based on this value, one glass of calcium-fortified orange juice provides more than 100% of the calcium requirement for a child 1 to 3 years of age. In addition, the value of vitamin C (140 milligrams) present in the juice aids in mineral absorption.

Fortified cereals and cereal bars

In 2021, the journal Annals of The New York Academy of Science highlighted the role of calcium-fortified cereals in increasing calcium intake in children. In fact, it’s a way to prevent health problems such as osteomalacia and rickets in children.

Non-dairy foods containing vitamin D

The first thing is that there aren’t many foods that are natural sources of vitamin D. Its main function is that it aids in calcium absorption, muscle contraction, and the immune system, among others.

Sunlight activates precursors in the body to transform them into vitamin D. However, the organization HealthyChildren doesn’t support this method as a source of vitamin D in children. A child between 1 and 13 years of age needs 15 micrograms of vitamin D, equivalent to 600 international units (IU)

A cup of milk provides about 12o IU. But what other non-milk sources of this nutrient can we recommend?

Fatty fish

Salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, and sardines are fatty fish that provide significant amounts of vitamin D, as well as cod liver oil. The National Institute of Health highlights it as one of its main sources.

For example, according to the Spanish Nutrition Foundation, a 100-gram serving of salmon provides 8 micrograms. This is equivalent to more than half of the requirement. Not only fresh fish, but canned tuna also provides enough vitamin D, as a 100-gram serving contains 269 IU of this vitamin.

Fortified vegetable milk

The University of Rochester Medical Center reports through its encyclopedia the nutritional value of soy milk. It’s fortified in calcium but also in vitamin D, providing 120 IU for each serving (1 cup).

The organization Consumers Reports comments on the high vitamin D values in fortified rice milk, almond milk, and coconut milk. One cup of these beverages can provide up to 205 IU of vitamin D.


Fats, vitamins, and minerals are most concentrated in egg yolks. One yolk of a large egg can reach 37 IU of vitamin D. Exposure of the yolk to ultraviolet light increases vitamin D values by 3 to 4 times.

Also, the Journal of Food Science points out that animal feed fortified with vitamin D increases up to 2.5 times its concentration in the yolk.

Fortified cereals

One cup of whole wheat flakes can be fortified up to 145 IU of vitamin D. While 1 cup of fortified rice cereal contains 85 IU. As not all cereals are fortified, we recommend checking product labels.

Non-dairy nutrient sources containing protein

With dairy removed from children’s diets, we can find a wide variety of sources of high-quality protein. We recommend the following protein foods that have a good proportion of essential amino acids and a biological value close to the maximum level of 100, especially those of animal origin:

  • Lean white meats, such as chicken, turkey, and rabbit
  • Oily fish, such as mackerel, tuna, and salmon
  • Lean beef cuts
  • Whole eggs
  • Legumes, such as soy and its derivatives (tofu, tempeh, miso)
  • Pseudocereals, such as quinoa and amaranth
  • Nuts

The best source of nutrients is a healthy diet

If your child doesn’t want dairy foods, don’t worry. As you can see, they can be substituted by non-dairy sources of nutrients that provide enough calcium, vitamin D, and the proteins they need for their good development and growth.

The same food can provide protein, calcium, and vitamin D, so check the labels of fortified products. However, it’ll always be convenient to check with a pediatrician if any nutritional supplement is required, in addition to following the guidance and orientation of a nutritionist.

A diet based on healthy, balanced, and varied food groups will be the way to ensure all the nutrients necessary for the good growth and development of the child who doesn’t eat dairy.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.