Although a child’s body absorbs nutrients best from food, sometimes a vitamin and mineral supplement is needed. To decide when, use your child’s plate. A few years ago, the USDA created an interactive tool called “My Plate” to help guide our food choices. It can also be used to help you decide if your child needs a vitamin and mineral supplement.
Here are some useful tips:
"My Plate” recommends that half of our plates be filled with fruits and vegetables. These foods provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, potassium, iron, selenium and vitamins A, C, E and K. A child’s intake varies from day to day, but if your child’s plate doesn’t usually meet this goal, he or she is missing out nutritionally. This is when you should consider adding a child’s complete multivitamin.
Choose a chewable over a gummy as they usually contain a wider range of vitamins and minerals. But remember, these are only intended to supplement your child’s diet. They cannot and should not take of the place of real, nutritious food.
Dairy products provide the bone-building nutrients calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D. These very important nutrients are also needed for heart health and muscle strength. Some studies suggest vitamin D can help prevent autoimmune diseases, cancers and mood disorders.
If your child’s daily intake doesn’t include two to three servings (depending on age) of low-fat dairy or dairy substitute, a calcium supplement with vitamin D is needed. Childhood and especially the teenage years are peak bone-building years. For more information, talk to a registered dietitian about ways to help your child take in more dairy and learn about non-dairy sources of these nutrients.
Meat, beans, soy, whole grains and some fruits and vegetables contain iron. While it’s the most abundant metal on earth, iron-deficiency anemia is the number one nutritional disorder in the world. Humans need iron for oxygen transport and cell growth. The causes of iron deficiency are many, but may be as simple as not getting enough in food.
Once again, look at your child’s plate. If it regularly lacks meat, beans, soy, whole grains, fruits and vegetables containing iron, consider giving a multivitamin supplement or talk to your doctor about checking for iron-deficiency anemia. Most children’s complete multivitamins contain 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance for iron.
Nutrients should first come from your child’s plate through healthy food choices. When a little extra help is needed, however, an age-appropriate vitamin and mineral supplement can help fill in the nutritional gaps.
Cassandra Saxon, RD, LD, is a pediatric registered and licensed dietitian with Mercy Clinic Kids GI and Mercy Children’s Hospital St. Louis.