Every grocery store or drugstore has them: rows and rows of colorful children’s vitamins.
But even back in the 1950s, pediatricians were advising, “Don’t get into the ancient tonic habit all over again just because of publicity…”
“I’m a major non-vitamin person,” said Dr. Kathryn McLeod—at least in the pill form. “If you and your child are eating a well-balanced diet, you’re getting vitamins. Taking vitamin pills might sound healthy, but I don’t think a pill can replace a good healthy diet.”
A balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, meat or meat replacements, and healthy carbohydrates supplies not just vitamins and minerals. “There’s so much more to our food than vitamins,” said McLeod. “There’s fiber, which keeps our colon healthy, and protein, which helps our body build strong tissues and bones.”
Getting Your Child to Eat Their Vitamins
But if you’re reading this blog, you may have the issue of a picky eater who only wants to eat chicken nuggets and mac ‘n’ cheese for most meals. So aren’t vitamins better than nothing?
Yes—but it also sounds like it’s time for a diet reboot. “There are definitely some children with behavioral or sensory-based feeding problems who have a very clear preference for certain foods or food textures. It’s a tough challenge, and for these parents, pick the path of least resistance while trying to provide the most healthy choices,” said McLeod. “But most kids don’t have these behavioral differences; they just have an opinion and they’re winning every time.”
A typical healthy plate of food for a child—or anyone—should have four items: fruit, vegetables, meat or other protein, and a carbohydrate like whole-grain bread or pasta. So for example, breakfast could be toast with honey, sausage and sliced apple; lunch could be chicken nuggets, pita, strawberries and broccoli (raw or cooked); and dinner could be pot roast, carrots and potatoes, bread and canned mixed fruit in juice (not syrup).
While you don’t want mealtime to be a battle, try taking the same route you took when your child was a toddler: “Just keep putting it on their plate and say they have to take at least a bite,” said McLeod. “Studies show that 10 tries will generally win a kid over, so be patient.”
If you’re worried about your child not getting enough vitamins, talk to your pediatrician. Your child’s growth chart is the best way to measure if he or she is getting the vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber needed for healthy growth.
Still, there are certain situations where it’s important for your otherwise normal, healthy child to get vitamins:
From birth up to one year: If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll want to supplement your baby’s diet with vitamin D, either by giving your infant vitamin D drops or by adding vitamin D supplements to the mother’s diet. Formula-fed babies receive an adequate supply of vitamin D when they are taking about one liter of milk a day, which is about 32 ounces. All babies need iron-fortified foods such as baby cereal starting at six months.
Vegetarians: For those eating vegetarian diets, it may be important to supplement with B12 vitamins, which is most commonly found in animal products. Vegetarians can also choose B12-fortified cereals.
Being born premature: A lot of nutrients are passed on to the fetus in the last trimester so if your baby was born prematurely, they may require vitamins for bone growth and to prevent anemia.
Instead of Vitamins
But for most of us, instead of turning to a bottle of vitamins, try nutritional counseling from a dietitian. And that may be for the entire family.
“Take a look at your own diet, as well as that of your child,” said McLeod. “If as a parent you’re not eating a well-balanced diet, your child may be at risk too. Vitamins may be a quick and easy start, but choosing a varied diet, setting mealtime routines and creating a positive mealtime environment are the better answer.”