Vitamin supplements have become a part of the daily routine for many Americans of every age – however, does your healthy child really need a supplement?
Most experts agree that supplements are not really necessary for healthy children. Instead, it would be ideal for a child to get their daily allotment of vitamins from a well-balanced diet which should include:
- Low fat milk and dairy products
- Fruits and leafy, green vegetables
- Whole grains such as oats and brown rice
When Does My Child Need a Vitamin Supplement?
Although in an ideal situation, a child could obtain all of their daily vital nutrients from natural food sources, there are plenty of circumstances under which a vitamin supplement becomes necessary:
- Picky eaters who refuse many of the above listed items
- Kids suffering from chronic conditions including asthma and digestive problems
- Kids involved in demanding sports or who are otherwise extraordinarily active
- Those who have a restricted diet – for example, a lactose-intolerant child might need a calcium supplement, or a vegetarian child may need supplements for iron and vitamin B12
- Kids who regularly drink a lot of carbonated sodas
Which Vitamins Does My Child Need Most?
There are many different vitamins and minerals which our bodies need in various amounts; however, among these are a few which are particularly important:
- Vitamin A: Promotes healthy eyes, skin, tissue and bone repair and protects the immune system. Found in milk, eggs and yellow and orange vegetables.
- B Vitamin Complex: The vitamins which make up the B complex are vital to your child’s metabolism. Vitamin B12 is particularly important because of its role in the health of the circulatory and nervous systems. These are found in meat, nuts, eggs, milk and beans.
- Vitamin C: Promotes healthy muscles, skin and connective tissue, and is found in many fruits and green vegetables
- Vitamin D: Necessary for bone and tooth formation, as well as aiding in the absorption of calcium. The best source of Vitamin D is actually sunlight – it’s recommended that you get at least 10 minutes of direct sunlight daily for this reason.
- Calcium: Also necessary for bone formation and growth. Found in milk, yogurt, tofu, and fortified orange juice
- Iron: Helps to build muscle and encourage healthy development of red blood cells. Found in meats, spinach and beans.
A Word of Warning
Megavitamins – large doses of vitamins – aren’t a good idea for children. The fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) can be toxic if kids overdose on excessive amounts. This is also true with iron. Your kids can get too much of a good thing.
Look to Fresh Foods for the Best Vitamins
Healthy kids get their best start from what you put in your grocery cart.
Good nutrition starts by serving a wide variety of whole, fresh foods as much as possible. That’s far better than serving up fast foods or convenience foods – and hoping that taking a kids’ vitamin will undo any nutritional no-no’s. You’ll find the most vitamins and minerals in foods high in carbohydrates and proteins (rather than fats). By far, the most high-vitamin foods of all are fresh fruits and vegetables.
To give kids more vitamins, aim for more variety — not simply more food. Twice as many kids today are overweight than just two decades ago, so use kid-sized food portions, which are one-quarter to one-third the size of adult portions.
Spread the variety of foods into several small meals and snacks throughout the day. If your child won’t eat a particular food for a few days – like vegetables – don’t fret. But reintroduce those foods again a day or two later, perhaps prepared in a different way. A kid’s “food strike” usually ends by itself.
Vitamins and Healthy Kids: Five Tips
If you do give vitamins to your kids, follow these tips:
- Put vitamins away, well out of reach of children, so your child doesn’t treat them like candy.
- Try not to battle over foods with your kids or use desserts as a bribe to “clean your plate.” Instead, try giving a chewable vitamin as a “treat” at the end of a meal. Fat-soluble vitamins can only be absorbed with food.
- If your child is taking any medication, be sure to ask your child’s doctor about any drug interactions with certain vitamins or minerals. Then the supplement won’t boost or lower the medication dose.
- Try a chewable vitamin if your child won’t take a pill or liquid supplement.
- Consider waiting until a child is 4-years-old to start giving a multivitamin supplement unless your child’s doctor suggests otherwise.
Sound nutrition plays a role in your child’s learning and development. So rather than relying on cartoon characters selling supplements, commit to feeding a range of healthy foods to your kids if at all possible.