The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating dairy foods every day.
The foods and drinks in this group are excellent sources of calcium, which is important for strong, healthy bones.
Not many other foods in our diet contain as much calcium as dairy and compared to other foods, the calcium in dairy is in a readily absorbable form.
Dairy foods also provide important nutrients such as protein, iodine, riboflavin and Vitamins A, D and B12.
According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, the best choices for children over two years of age are low or reduced-fat dairy products. This is reflected in the Smart Choices guidelines where low and reduced-fat dairy products are classified as GREEN, and full-fat varieties are AMBER.
What are the problems?
Although most Australian children consume dairy foods, intake decreases as children get older.
The most recent Australian National Nutrition Survey showed that for girls aged 4-8 years, 21% do not consume enough calcium from dairy foods, and this rises to 90% for girls aged 14-18 years.
Throughout childhood and teenage years, calcium is deposited in bones, contributing to higher bone density and preventing diseases like osteoporosis.
After around age 25, bones don’t get any stronger, so an excellent calcium intake throughout childhood is the best way to build strong bones for life.
How much dairy is needed?
The recommended number of serves for children depends on gender and age.
A standard serve is:
- 1 cup (250ml) fresh or UHT long-life milk
- 2 slices or 40g of hard cheese, such as cheddar
- ¾ cup (200g) yoghurt
- 1 cup (250ml) soy, rice or other plant-based milk (at least 100mg of added calcium per 100ml)
What about children with a dairy allergy or intolerance?
Up to 3.5% of children in Australia have a dairy allergy, which is the most common special diet in children aged 2-18 years.
For these children, non-dairy alternatives include plant-based milks, yoghurts and cheeses. These products should be carefully chosen to ensure an adequate amount of calcium.
Plant-based milks should contain at least 100mg calcium per 100mL.
Increasing dairy in your tuckshop menu
Children enjoy eating dairy foods, but one of the reasons for falling intakes is replacement of healthier foods with nutrient-poor, ultra-processed snack foods.
These ‘junk’ foods don’t belong on tuckshop menus so eating from the tuckshop can be a great way to boost the nutrient content of kids’ diets.
Dairy foods can be incorporated across the hot and cold meals, snacks, and drinks sections of your menu.
See below for some recipes to consider adding to your menu to boost the calcium content.