Adults need vitamins to maintain a healthy diet and sometimes that comes in the form of multivitamins. So, do kids need em, too? We asked Chris Schnell, pediatric registered dietitian specialist at AdventHealth, for some advice.
Describe the nutritional needs kids need at various stages.
Nutritional needs coincide with growth patterns. Growing muscles, teeth, blood and bones all cause an increased demand. Pound for pound, the nutritional needs are greatest during infancy. Many parents do well with healthy food choices during these early years but gradually offer more and more convenience foods as they older.
Convenience foods tend to be lower in vitamins and minerals and higher in fat, sugar and calories. As children grow, it's important to ensure plenty of healthy options to make certain they're getting all the vitamins and minerals they need. Healthy options should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy protein sources and whole grains.
Does your child need vitamins or other dietary supplements?
No. Healthy children can digest and absorb all the nutrients they need from foods just fine. Nutrients from foods tend be better absorbed compared to supplements, but a vitamin might be recommended if your child is a very picky eater, follows a vegetarian diet or has been diagnosed with certain medical conditions.
What should you do about a picky eater?
Don't expect your kids to make healthy choices if you don't. Taste buds are generally more in favor of salty and sweet foods at younger ages and evolve as we get older. If I can get healthier foods on the parent's plate then a child will usually come around with age. It's best to keep offering new tastes and textures as your children get older. I couldn't stomach mushrooms or onions as a kid, but now I can't get enough.
Children also like to have the power of choice. Don't expect to get your child to eat more vegetables by putting the same microwaved mixed vegetable blend on their plate five nights a week.
Studies have found children improve their intake of healthy foods when up to seven items are provided. Now you don't have to prepare seven meals, but you can add a small amount of whatever you make for dinner and maybe put on the plate some grapes, strawberries, carrot sticks and low-sugar peanut butter. Provide a few healthy choices and let the child decide.
How can you make dinner fun, friendly and not a battle of wills?
Get the children involved in the kitchen at an early age. Have them help make a pizza crust out of cauliflower or spaghetti noodles out of zucchini. There are plenty of creative healthy recipes online. Don't get upset if your child doesn't want to eat something. Many children will be resistant to certain foods. The key is to offer choices.
The way you ask them to choose a healthy food can make all the difference. Instead of saying eat your vegetables, say would you rather have carrots or broccoli?
Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Are vitamins necessary?
Yes, vitamins are necessary and yes children can consume too much. There are two types of vitamins water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins. Water-soluble vitamins are less of a concern because excessive amounts will be excreted in the urine. Fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) are stored in the body and can be toxic in high amounts.
Most children aren't at risk unless they eat too many vitamins, so it's best to make sure that the vitamins are out of reach. Teach your children the importance of only taking the recommended dose.
What if your child eats the entire bottle of gummy vitamins?
You should call poison control and seek medical attention immediately. Certain vitamins and minerals can become toxic in excessive amounts.
What if your family is super busy?
Put together some healthy snacks for the road. These include peanut butter, fruits, low-sugar yogurts or carrot sticks.
Pick one dedicated day a week that you can map out your schedule and plan your meals. Many types of foods can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the fridge. I grill chicken on Monday and use the leftovers for chicken tacos on Tuesday.
What are the top vitamins and nutrients that kids need?
All nutrients are important for health, but children typically need adequate amounts of vitamin D, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber.
What are some creative ways to get them into their diets?
Get creative. I recently made frozen treats out of watermelon by cutting it into triangles and putting wooden sticks in them and freezing. My son loves them and doesn't think twice that he's actually eating something packed with nutrients. Here is a recipe for Homemade Frozen Yogurt Pops with Peaches.
Children do really well with smoothies, too. Let children choose some healthy options to add. A little Greek yogurt and you have calcium and vitamin D, add some whole fruit and vegetable and you have some vitamins/minerals and fiber, flax seeds for omega 3s and maybe a little oatmeal for added fiber, blend and enjoy.