You need to drink your milk if you want strong bones and teeth Picture: Pexels

There is good reason that millions of moms worldwide use the reasoning, “You need to drink your milk if you want strong bones and teeth”. It’s because it’s true. Calcium is an essential mineral needed for building and maintaining bones and teeth, as well as for blood clotting, muscle and nerve function and keeping our hearts healthy.

And as the old saying goes, milk is indeed one of the best sources of calcium. Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, cheese and maas are the top natural sources of calcium and children who consume a good amount of these products in their early years are less susceptible to osteoporosis and other health concerns in later life.

“It is the critical role that calcium plays in the body that saw the inclusion of milk, yoghurt and maas in the revised dietary guidelines for South Africans in 2013 – and the more moms are reminded to include it in our children’s diets, the better,” says Marlinie Kotiah, Science Manager for Danone Southern Africa.

As children grow and develop, their calcium needs change and develop with them – so your child will need different amounts at the different stages of their life:1

One to three years old: 700mg per day (two to three servings of milk, maas or yoghurt)

Four to eight years old: 1000mg (three to four servings of milk, maas or yoghurt)

Nine to 18 years: 1300mg (four or more servings of milk, maas or yoghurt)

Based on these amounts, one serving works out to mean: one 250ml glass of milk, two tubs of 200ml yoghurt and 200ml of maas. One serving of cheese is one-third of a cup of grated cheese or one 40g slice.

Getting your older child to eat or drink that amount of dairy can be a challenge. Jazzing up their snacks or meals by making smoothies with yoghurt, cereal and fruit can help make it more fun for your children to get their daily intake, particularly if they are fussy eaters. If your child is lactose intolerant, the great news is that yoghurt contains live cultures that may help your child digest the lactose in the yoghurt.

“Making sure that your child gets the calcium they need doesn’t have to be difficult – incorporating a routine of having milk, maas or yoghurt every day and finding creative ways to make it part of the family’s diet will give your children a strong nutritional foundation that will carry them right through their lives,” says Kotiah.

Research shows that children's intakes of calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamins A, D, C and E, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and folic acid were below two-thirds of the Recommended Dietary Allowances – 84% of children aged between one and nine take less than their recommended dietary intakes of calcium.2

This indicates a need to increase the amount of calcium that our children are consuming, and having milk, maas or yoghurt every day is a simple change that can make a big difference. Children who consume yoghurt are less likely to be overweight, eat more fruit, wholegrains, have better intakes of calcium, and have a lower kilojoule (energy) intake from fat and sugar.

Prioritising calcium intake forms part of a new campaign called 1 Million Moms Pledge for Healthy Change, which focuses on identifying simple solutions to help moms achieve better nutrition for their families. It involves five simple but effective actions for moms to commit to:

1.           Eat more fruit and vegetables every day

2.           Have milk, maas or yoghurt every day

3.           Eat breakfast every day

4.           Drink more water every day

5.           Move more every day

“Once moms have signed the Pledge, they will receive tips, recipe ideas and the opportunity to talk to other moms and ask nutrition experts for advice through live chats. Follow #LiveBetterTogether to join in the conversation,” concludes Kotiah.