Substitutions, Supplements, and Exercise
Don't ditch dairy if your child is lactose intolerant.
Kids who get tummy aches after they drink milk may not be able to digest its natural sugar, called lactose. One out of four people have the condition, and it's especially common among African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics. But according to the AAP, most lactose-sensitive kids can ultimately drink regular milk without getting cramps or diarrhea. "Drinking milk may actually help build up a child's tolerance by fostering good bacteria in the intestines," says Robert P. Heaney, MD, professor of medicine at Creighton University, in Omaha.
Serve your child milk at mealtime, since food helps spread out lactose absorption. Start with a few ounces on his cereal, then gradually increase the amount. If he still can't stomach it, buy lactose-free milk (which costs about $1 more per half gallon than regular milk and tastes different), or give him tablets or drops containing lactase, an enzyme that breaks down the sugar. Even if your child can't drink milk, he may be able to tolerate hard cheeses (which have lower lactose levels than milk) and yogurt with active cultures (which aid in digestion).
Another option: Try calcium-fortified soy or rice milk. But keep in mind that these beverages provide only about 45 percent of the calcium listed on the label, according to Dr. Heaney's research. Why? "The calcium added to these products separates and settles as sludge at the bottom," he says. "Even shaking the carton isn't enough to resuspend it in the milk."
Consider a supplement.
It's best to get calcium from food sources, since the nutrients they contain work together to build bones. But if your child isn't getting enough in her diet, a supplement that combines calcium and vitamin D may be the best alternative. For safety's sake, Dr. Heaney suggests buying brand-name products with a reputation to protect, since supplements aren't regulated by the FDA. Pick one your kids will take daily without a fight. Good choices include Viactiv Chews (which come in a variety of flavors) and L'il Critters Calcium Taffy Soft Chews for Kids. Each has 500mg of calcium per serving.
Get your child moving.
To build strong bones, kids need more than calcium; they need daily exercise. As muscles contract during high-intensity activity, the tendons that attach them tug against your child's bones to stimulate growth. Too many kids live sedentary lives these days. According to one study, preschoolers get just half of the 60 minutes of daily exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Boost your child's activity level by taking him to the park regularly and letting him play outside as often as possible. If he's old enough, sign him up for a sports program or a martial arts, gymnastics, or dance class. Just 15 extra minutes of running, jumping, and tumbling a day can increase a child's bone strength significantly, says Kathleen Janz, PhD, professor of health and sport studies at the University of Iowa.