We all know the importance of vitamins and minerals. However, today’s health-crazed lifestyle has placed an unnecessary importance on vitamin supplements—especially for children.
Rather than feed your kids colorful, character-shaped supplements, feed them a nutritious diet filled with healthy foods.
That’s right. Vitamin supplements are totally unnecessary—as long as your child is healthy. If your children eat a nutritionally balanced diet, there is no reason for them to pop pills.
What constitutes a “nutritionally balanced diet?” Make sure your child eats some of the following each day:
- Low-fat dairy products—like yogurt, cheese, and of course milk!
- Lean proteins
- “Good carbs” like whole grain pasta, rice, and bread (oatmeal is great too)
- Fruits and vegetables—especially the green ones
Exception to the Rule
As is always the case, there are a few exceptions to the rules. Vitamin supplements might be necessary in certain scenarios.
Some children are picky eaters. Most of the time, this can be reversed with a little hard work, determination, and attention to detail on the parents’ part. But if you simply are unable to get your kids to eat the foods they should, vitamin supplements might be needed to make up for what the diet lacks.
Children with chronic illnesses (like asthma, diabetes, etc.) might need vitamin supplements. If the body is unable to process and absorb the vitamins from the child’s diet, he or she might need an extra-large dose to compensate for what is lost.
Any child who is extraordinarily active—like athletes in demanding sports—might need a boost too. If their body is burning through all the vitamins and minerals they consume, supplements will help give extra nutrients without unnecessary calories.
If soda has replaced healthy beverages like 100% juices or milk, supplements might be needed.
Any child with a restrictive diet will need supplements. Children who are lactose intolerant will need extra doses of calcium and vitamin D. Calcium supplements will provide the nutrients the child misses out on from foods like milk and cheese. Additional vitamin D will be needed to help the body absorb all the extra calcium.
Likewise, children who are vegetarians or vegans will need to supplement their diet due to the loss of animal products. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products—eggs, beef, poultry, milk, fish, etc. If the child doesn’t eat those types of foods, the body won’t receive the necessary amounts of B12.
Pills and Injections, Oh My!
If you do choose to supplement your child’s diet, parents must also consider the mode of supplementation. Oral pills or flavorful chewables aren’t the only option available. For some, vitamin injections are needed.
Oral pills—whether chewed or swallowed—must first be absorbed through the digestive system before they can be utilized by the body. If your youngster has a condition that interferes with that process—like crohn’s disease, celiac disease or pernicious anemia—vitamin injections are likely the only option available.
My oldest son has used these vitamin injections for several years to keep his pernicious anemia in check. Parents can relax—your youngster won’t need to be poked every day. Most vitamin injections are only required every few weeks or so.
Proceed With Caution
If you do choose to use vitamin supplements, be careful. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. Fat soluble vitamins (like A, D, E and K) and iron can be toxic. Don’t let your child overdose.
Encouraging Healthy Eaters
Getting kids to eat healthy foods isn’t always easy. That is why so many of us opt for supplements—it is a surefire way to ensure your kids get the nutrients they need. While it may be difficult, it isn’t impossible. With just a little extra effort, you can get your kids to eat just about anything!
Here are some things to consider:
- Yes, you do need to make sure your kids are getting enough vitamins. But that doesn’t mean you simply give them more food! Remember kid-size portions are 1/4 to 1/3 the size of an adult portion.
- Focus on variety. Give your children small meals and then snacks throughout the day. This provides more opportunities for healthy foods.
- Don’t battle over food. If your child goes on a “food strike,” don’t panic; they don’t usually last long. Introduce the food again in a week. However, don’t let your youngster simply say, “I don’t like broccoli.” Research shows you might have to introduce a food 21 times before it becomes something they like (or will even tolerate). Don’t give up!
- Don’t bribe your children to eat their food. Dessert shouldn’t be a reward for good eating habits.
- Likewise, don’t instigate a “clean your plate” philosophy. This just encourages overeating. Rather, ask your children to try a bite of everything on the plate. If they like something, they’ll eat enough of it to get the required nutrients.
- The body can only absorb fat soluble vitamins if there is food involved (they need fat!). If you do choose to give your child supplements, serve them with a meal.
Making sure your child has the proper level of vitamins and minerals is important. However, popping a pill isn’t the answer. Unless your children have extenuating circumstances, a healthy diet will yield all the vitamins they need.
Jessica Velasco is a Des Moines native, mother of two boys, and lover of ice cream. When she isn’t writing, she is probably cleaning crayon off the walls, chasing the escaped dog around the neighborhood or feigning deafness in the bathtub.