In a perfect world, children would regularly eat a balanced, healthy diet. Their daily meals would include plenty of fresh fruits and leafy, green vegetables; milk and dairy products like cheese and yogurt (preferably low-fat products for kids over age 3); protein like chicken, fish, meat, and eggs; and whole grains like oats and brown rice.
The reality, however, is that parents will not always have the time to cook and prepare healthy meals for their children. Moreover, many if not most children don’t have the discipline to eat a balanced, healthy diet everyday.
This is why pediatricians may recommend a daily multivitamin or mineral supplement for certain children. These include:
Kids who are not eating regular, well-balanced meals made from fresh, whole foods
Picky eaters who simply aren’t eating enough
Kids with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or digestive problems, especially if they’re taking medications (if your child is on medication, be sure to talk with your child’s doctor first before starting a supplement)
Kids eating a lot of fast foods, instant foods, and processed foods
Kids who drink a lot of carbonated sodas, which can leach vitamins and minerals from their bodies
The following vitamins and minerals are critical for growing kids:
Vitamin A – promotes normal growth and development; tissue and bone repair; and healthy skin, eyes, and immune responses. Good sources include milk, cheese, eggs, and yellow-to-orange vegetables like carrots, yams, and squash.
Vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12 – aid metabolism, energy production, and healthy circulatory and nervous systems. Good sources include meat, chicken, fish, nuts, eggs, milk, cheese, beans, and soybeans.
Vitamin C – promotes healthy muscles, connective tissue, and skin. Good sources include citrus fruit, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, and green vegetables like broccoli.
Vitamin D – promotes bone and tooth formation and helps the body absorb calcium. Good sources include milk and fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight.
Calcium – helps build strong bones as a child grows. Good sources include milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, and calcium-fortified orange juice.
Iron – builds muscle and is essential to healthy red blood cells. Iron deficiency is a risk in adolescence, especially for girls once they begin to menstruate. Good sources include beef and other red meats, turkey, pork, spinach, beans, and prunes.
Make sure to follow the pediatrician’s dosing instructions. Taken in excessive amounts, the fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) and iron can be toxic to children.
Store vitamins out of reach of children. Teach them that vitamins are not candy.
Try not to argue over foods with your kids or use desserts as a bribe to “clean your plate.” Instead, give your child a chewable vitamin after the meal. Fat-soluble vitamins can only be absorbed with food.
If your child is taking any medication (e.g. medication for fever or asthma), be sure to ask your child’s doctor about any drug interactions with certain vitamins or minerals. This is to ensure that the multivitamin supplement will not boost or lower your child’s medication dose.
Try a chewable vitamin if your child won’t take a pill or liquid supplement.
Consider waiting until a child reaches age 4 to start giving a multivitamin supplement, unless your child’s doctor suggests otherwise.