Your child’s health is one of your top priorities as a parent. You want to make sure they’re sleeping well, exercising, and getting all the nutrients they need to be healthy and grow strong.
Eating well can be a tricky task, especially with a picky eater, so dietary supplements may be needed to help your child’s development. Whether it’s a vitamin, mineral, herb, or other substance, you need to know what’s appropriate and what you should avoid at every age and stage.
A dietary supplement is intended to add an essential nutrient that your child isn’t getting—whether they’re vitamin deficient or simply won’t eat certain foods. The good news is that supplements come in different forms: tablets, capsules, gummies, powders, and food or drinks; you just need to find something that works.
If your child is eating a healthy diet, supplements may not be necessary at all. There are only special circumstances where a supplement may be needed:
- Your child has a condition that affects the absorption of nutrients, like celiac disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, or inflammatory bowel disease
- Has a vegetarian or vegan diet
- Has darker skin (may have lower vitamin D levels)
- Has dietary restrictions due to allergies
- Had surgery that impacts their stomach or intestines
- Is simply a picky eater
Before you make any decisions, it’s best to talk with a healthcare professional. You should also do your own research on which brands and dosages are best for your child. Look for quality, well-known brands that have been tested by a third party like NSF International, Consumer Lab, and United States Pharmacopeia. If choose to supplement, be aware of these risks:
- Avoid taking megadoses that exceed the daily nutrient percentage for your child’s age
- Beware of mixing supplements with other prescription medications
- Check the label for additional side effects or potential reactions
- Avoid taking too many supplements at one time
Remember, more doesn’t mean better, and “natural” doesn’t always mean it’s safe. Supplements are not meant to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases, although they could lessen the risk.
Now that you know what to avoid and why your child may need a supplement, it’s time to break down what nutrients are essential for your child’s daily diet. A child’s nutrient needs, along with their recommended daily calorie intake, depend on many factors, including their age, sex, size, and activity level. Younger children typically have a lower calorie and nutrient intake level, but they’re still necessary for good health and development.
Calcium helps build healthy bones. You’ll want to make sure they’re getting plenty of vitamin D (found in sunlight), vitamin K, and magnesium. Key foods include leafy greens, nuts, breakfast cereals, milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Iron helps red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body. There are two types of iron that are key: heme and non-heme. Red meat, fatty fish, poultry, and eggs are full of heme iron. Plants and fortified food containing non-heme iron include infant cereals, dark leafy veggies, beans, lentils, and tofu.
Vitamin A is necessary for growth and tissue repair and supports healthy skin and vision. Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, liver, and dairy are rich in vitamin A.
Vitamin B is essential for metabolism, neurological development, and healthy blood, skin, and eyes. You can get plenty of vitamin B from meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, soy, and whole grains.
Vitamin C helps promote a healthy immune system and development. It’s also good for healthy skin, bones, and blood vessels. Citrus fruits and vegetables are key here. As an FYI, cooking veggies can destroy some vitamin C content, so giving them raw veggies is beneficial as well.
If you feel like your child isn’t getting these essential nutrients daily, a dietary supplement may be the path for you. Again, be sure to do your research on ingredients and the nutrition facts panel and consult a physician before adding anything to your child’s diet.
If you do decide to supplement, make sure you are with your child when they take the vitamin or mineral. Many supplement packages aren’t child-proof, so taking a supplement unsupervised could lead to a trip to the emergency room—especially if they’re confusing their gummy vitamin with candy. But under careful supervision, the right supplements could play a useful role in supporting your child’s growth.