Don’t Forget Dairy as Part of Your Child’s Healthy Diet

Many active children don’t consume the recommended amounts

Don’t Forget Dairy As Part of Your Child's Healthy Diet

Contributor: Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD

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The recently released U.S. Dietary Guidelines had a few surprises – one of which was that children ages 4 to 18 are not eating the recommended daily intake of dairy products.

This puts many children at increased risk for injury – or even rickets!

Dairy products are an important part of the diet because in addition to providing carbohydrates, protein, and sometimes fat, they provide a wealth of vitamins and minerals, including calcium and vitamin D.

RELATED: Think Your Child Gets Enough Vitamin D? You Might Be Surprised

Important for growth

Calcium and vitamin D are important during all stages of life.  Calcium is required to keep bones strong and vitamin D is necessary for our body to absorb calcium. So adequate dairy intake is important for active young athletes.

Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are the richest sources of calcium.

Boys and girls ages 4 to 8 need 2.5 cups of dairy products per day, while children ages 9 to 18 need three cups per day. Meeting this goal should not be hard given that there are many forms of dairy.

RELATED: Calcium, Vitamin D and Bone Health

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Choose low-fat dairy

One of the key recommendations in the new dietary guidelines is to include fat-free or low-fat dairy.

The dietary guidelines recommend fat-free or 1 percent dairy products over 2 percent milk, whole milk and regular cheese because they provide the same nutrients, with less fat.

The guidelines also encourage choosing milk and yogurt more often than cheese because they contain less saturated fat and sodium, but more potassium and vitamins A and D.

If your child is lactose-intolerant, serve lactose-free milk, yogurt and cheese. They have the same amounts of calcium and vitamin D, in addition to other vitamins and minerals. Soy milk also is fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals.

RELATED: How to Make Healthier Lunches for Your Young Athlete

Getting more dairy in your child’s diet

To help your child meet the recommended intake of dairy, try these suggestions for meals and snacks:

Breakfast

  • Fat-free or 1 percent milk in cereal, a smoothie or oatmeal, or served alone
  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt and fruit
  • Add cheese to egg dishes such as scrambled eggs or omelets

Lunch

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  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt
  • A carton of fat-free or 1 percent milk
  • Add low-fat cheese to a sandwich
  • Low-fat cheese and crackers
  • Low-fat cottage cheese and fruit

Dinner

  • 1 cup fat-free or 1 percent milk
  • Add low-fat cheese to protein, salads, vegetables

Pre-practice/game snacks

  • Cereal and fat free or 1 percent milk
  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese or string cheese

Post-practice/game snacks

  • Fat-free or 1 percent milk
  • Fat-free or 1 percent chocolate milk
  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese, string cheese and crackers
  • Fruit smoothie with fat-free or 1 percent milk
  • Cereal and fat-free or 1 percent milk

Ensuring young athletes meet their dairy needs at a young age can help reduce their risk of injury and allow them to participate in sports for years to come. Remember to set the example as parents by eating dairy sources daily!

More information
Youth sports injury treatment and prevention guide

Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, is a certified specialist in sports dietetics for Cleveland Clinic Sports Health.

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