Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients your child needs to help them grow up to be healthy and strong. It can be every parent’s concern when you’re not sure if your child is getting the proper nutrients they need to achieve good health. But does your child really need to be taking a multivitamin to close the nutrition gaps?
Here’s the Coles notes version of my answer: Research tells us that for healthy toddlers, a nutritious diet is the best way to be getting all the vitamins and minerals they need. Whole foods offer more nutrients than multivitamins can offer. So generally speaking, if your toddler is healthy, eats a variety of foods, is active and sees a doctor regularly, they should not need a multivitamin. Keep in mind a varied, healthy diet for your toddler means: 1 serving of meat and alternatives, 3 servings of grains/starches, 2 servings of milk & dairy products, and at least 4 servings of fruit & veggies daily.
But what about those ads that say toddlers should be taking a multivitamin?
A lot of marketing companies will try to convince us that our food does not supply us with all the proper nutrients we need to reach optimum health, and often these marketing campaigns are targeted at children and their apparent need for multivitamins. This type of marketing can be very misleading, especially if you have a healthy child that is thriving on the food that they’re eating already. As a result, parents may be spending money on something that is just not needed, or risking giving their kids too many vitamins, resulting in overdose (yes, this is possible!). Another result of this messaging is that parents may resort to using multivitamins as a sort of insurance for a poor diet. Rather than trying to tackle the barriers they are experiencing to eating a healthy diet, they use multivitamins as a security measure to “fix” whatever unhealthy food was eaten throughout the day. Just be aware that it is possible for your child to take too many vitamins and it can be harmful to your child. Always read the label on the back for how many vitamins your child should be taking (usually one a day) and keep them out of sight of your children, as kids often think of them as candy and try to eat more than one.
But what if my toddler really does need a multivitamin?
Now, your toddler may need to supplement their diet with a vitamin if they:
- Completely omit food groups
- Have growth curve abnormalities
- Have an allergy or cultural restriction (like vegan, vegetarian, etc.)
- Eat mostly processed foods
Omitting Food Groups & Picky Eating:
For many picky eaters, my first route is to likely not immediately jump to a multivitamin. In fact, they may likely be eating enough fortified foods without even know it, like breakfast cereal and milk and therefore don’t always require a multivitamin for support. Over the span of a week, they are usually getting everything they need from a healthy diet. However, if your child has been omitting whole food groups for a long period of time (at least 1+ months), you will likely need to temporarily support them with a multivitamin while they learn to overcome this challenge, or find other foods which can give them the vitamins and minerals they are missing. For example, a child who consumes only dairy products may need to be supplemented with iron, or a child who rarely or never consumes fruits or vegetables, may need to be supplemented with fiber rich alternatives or supplements.
Abnormal Growth Patterns
If your child has a small appetite, it may not be anything to initially worry about, considering that your child is likely eating as much as their appetite will permit. However, if your child is experiencing declining or stagnant growth on their growth curve, it could mean your child is not absorbing nutrients or they’re not eating enough. The biggest red flag to watch for is iron if your child is losing weight. Your doctor may advise you to feed your toddler more and/or to take a multivitamin to ensure nutrient needs are being met.
Vegan & Vegetarian/Allergies
If your child is omitting certain foods because of an allergy or a cultural restriction, they may require the help of a multivitamin. Since this is such a critical time in your toddler’s growth and since toddlers tend to be pickier and have fluctuation appetites, it is important to make sure they are getting any vitamins via supplement if they are not able to get it through food. For example, if your child is a vegan or a vegetarian and therefore not eating meat and other animal products, they may not be getting enough B12 in their diet, which is important for a healthy nervous system.
Eating only processed food
If your child is eating mostly processed foods, this can be concerning, because many processed foods are high in fat, salt and sugar, but contain very little nutritious value for your child. Most vitamins and minerals are found in fresh, whole foods and fruits and vegetables, so your child may benefit from a multivitamin in this case. Remember though, don’t use the multivitamin as just a mask to the underlying problem of an extremely unhealthy diet. Consult with a dietitian for help to slowly begin introducing more fresh, whole foods to your toddler so that eventually, they may not need to rely on a multivitamin anymore.
If you’re still not sure if your child needs a multivitamin, sign up for my Feeding Toddlers 101 Online Workshop for more information on what you should be feeding your child and whether a multivitamin is right for them.
What are the general nutrients of concern for a toddler?
Generally, most multivitamins contain low-doses of vitamins A, B vitamins, C, D, E as well as some minerals. Sometimes – calcium and iron will be added to a multivitamin.
Let’s take a look at what each of these vitamins do and what foods they are found in:
Vitamin A: Great for the eyes! It is mostly found in animal sources like meat and fish, and found in very high amounts in liver. Be cautious if you consume a lot of liver as it is possible to overdose on vitamin A, which can be dangerous. Vitamin A is also found in carrots as beta-carotene and in many orange and yellow coloured plant foods like sweet potato.
B Vitamins: B vitamins are commonly found in whole grain foods, soy beans, vegetables, eggs, meat etc. They each have very important and different roles in the body, including cell regeneration, boosting immunity, metabolizing food and producing hormones, and produce red blood cells, among many other things.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant and also helps your body by holding your connective tissues together. Vitamin C is commonly found in peppers, oranges, kiwis, strawberries and papaya.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is synthesized on our skin from the sun, and can also be commonly found in food sources such as fatty fish ( tuna and salmon for example), and in fortified food products like milk and milk alternatives. It is extremely important for bone health, mood and depression, and even in the prevention of certain cancers. in Canada, most children do not get enough vitamin D just from the sun, especially during the long winter months and getting the amount you need via food is extremely difficult. That’s why, the one vitamin I would recommend taking (at least separately) for all children and adults alike, is a vitamin D supplement. You can find vitamin D supplements sold over the counter in pills, drops and chewable tablets. Toddlers should be getting 400-600 IU per day of vitamin D to meet their needs.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is best known for its antioxidant attributes than anything else. Vitamin E can be found most abundantly in seeds and nuts such as sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and in lower amounts in some vegetables like spinach.
Calcium: Calcium is so important in your child’s growth! Making sure they get enough calcium early on in life will help make strong, healthy bones for life. If your child drinks milk or a fortified dairy-free beverage, they should be getting enough calcium in a day. However, aside from these more obvious sources, calcium can be found in fish, soybeans and spinach.
Iron: Iron coincides with having really poor growth if your child is not getting enough. Eating protein-rich foods like meat, beans, fish and eggs will ensure your child is meeting their iron requirements. If your child is a vegan or a vegetarian, they may require more iron in their diet, as iron from plant-based foods is not as easily absorbed into the body as iron from meat and fish.
Keep in mind that a multivitamin gives just a little boost of these nutrients that are meant to supplement a typical diet.
It may be more helpful to look at exactly what nutrients your child may be missing in their diet (with the help of a dietitian) and then get a specific supplement that more completely meets those needs.
What should I look for in a multivitamin?
Try your best to avoid any artificial colours and dyes that come in a multivitamin or supplement. Be aware that there are a lot of multivitamins that are very much like candy and full of sugar.
Multivitamins come in a variety of forms: Chewables, gummies, liquid and powdered vitamins. The one you choose will be up to you depending on what your child accepts more easily and what the vitamin content of each one is. For example, most kids enjoy chewable gummies, however they usually contain a bit more sugar than other versions. That being said, this may be the only way you can consistently get your child to take the vitamins, and so in that case, it may be worth it to purchase these. However, gummies don’t usually have high levels of iron in them. Liquid and powdered vitamins tend to have the most iron doses – so pay attention to this if this is a main nutrient of concern for your child. The liquid and powdered supplements can come in many flavours (or flavourless ones exist as well) and parents often find that mixing them into a smoothie or yogurt is the best way to get it in. The trick here is, making sure your child takes the smoothie or yogurt + vitamin mixture daily!
Although I usually take into consideration cost of a product, accessibility, as well as all the other factors described above when making recommendation, I’ve compiled a short list of some different multivitamins in each category to help start you off in the right direction:
– The Honest Company Baby & Toddler Multivitamin Powder Packs
Salus Kindervitale Multivitamin for Children (no iron, but does have calcium & magnesium)
– Jamiesons Multi for Kids (has sugar alcohols in minute amounts so I don’t mind)
– Renzo’s Picky Eater Multi – Dissolvables (doesn’t contain iron but is sugar free)
– Garden of Life Vegetarian Multivitamin Supplement for Kids (has probiotic in it)
– OLLY Kids Super Foods Multivitamin Gummy Supplement,
Still lost? Wondering about the role of omega-3’s and probiotics as well? Sign up for my Feeding Toddlers 101 Online Workshop, where I can answer many of these questions for you and more!
Until next time,