Steps Toward Healthy Bones
Make milk a priority.
Children 4 to 8 should drink at least three 8-ounce glasses of milk per day, which means you should serve milk (or a dairy equivalent, such as 6 ounces of yogurt or 1.5 ounces of cheese) at every meal. Experts say milk has an edge over calcium-fortified beverages like orange juice. Besides being rich in calcium and fortified with vitamin D (which helps the body absorb calcium), milk has protein and essential vitamins and minerals -- including riboflavin, phosphorus, and zinc -- that help strengthen bones. "Calcium- and vitamin-D fortified juices don't provide these other nutrients, and they also have a lot more sugar," says Ailsa Goulding, PhD, a calcium-research fellow at the University of Otago, in New Zealand.
If your kids don't like the taste of milk, try flavored varieties.
A 2002 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that children who drank chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry milk took in almost 7 ounces more per day than those who drank regular milk. Flavored milk has just as much calcium as the plain stuff, although it does have more calories. But you can reduce them by using light or sugar-free chocolate syrup or powder. Other smart strategies: Switch to low-fat or nonfat milk if your child is 2 or older. You should also stop your child from drinking soda and restrict his juice intake (the AAP recommends no more than 6 ounces of juice per day for children 6 and under).
Be a role model.
To keep your bones strong, you need three servings of dairy products a day too. "Getting enough calcium is a family affair," says Stephanie Smith, RD, a spokesperson for the Western Dairy Council, in Thornton, Colorado. While all kids need calcium, setting an example for girls (who are more prone to getting osteoporosis later in life) is especially critical. Studies show that daughters whose moms drink milk regularly consume more of it themselves -- and drink less soda. Talking about why you still drink milk ("I love the taste, and it's good for my bones") will help your child realize why it's so important.