Oftentimes, parents will turn to supplements to make sure their children get the right amount of vitamins and minerals. In fact, supplements have become almost a staple in the lives of most youngsters.
But is that really a good idea?
Supplements vs. Diet
Adults and children who eat a well-balanced diet have very little need for supplements. That's right; you heard correctly.
You really don't need those pills.
By eating lots of vegetables and fruits, some lean proteins (like fish, poultry, tofu, and eggs), low-fat dairy products, and including unrefined carbs (whole-wheat pastas and breads, oatmeal, brown rice, etc) you should get all of the nutrition that you need.
When Healthy Eating Isn't Enough
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. Even if your child is a model for healthy eating, there are some special circumstances where adding supplements to an already well-rounded diet can be a good idea.
You may want to consider supplements if you are raising:
- an athlete. Children who play physically demanding sports can benefit from nutritional supplements. These supplements resupply any vitamins or minerals lost without adding extra calories. Excessively active kids who aren't necessarily athletes could benefit too.
- a stubbornly picky eater. All children go through picky phases. But if your child is resolutely avoiding certain healthy foods, you may want to consider adding a supplement to make up for whatever their diet is missing.
- a vegetarian or vegan. Some nutrients, like iron, protein, and vitamin B12, can be difficult for vegetarians to get because they are predominantly found in animal products. Vitamin B12 is particularly difficult for these children because it is only found in animal products. Vegetarians usually need one 10 microgram vitamin B12 supplement (usually oral pills) each day. Or, a weekly vitamin B12 injection of 2,000 micrograms is sufficient.
- a child with an otherwise restricted diet. For children who are simply unable to eat certain foods, supplements can be a great idea to make up for whatever nutrients they are missing. For example, a child with lactose intolerance should take a calcium and vitamin D supplement to ensure healthy growth. Each day, kids ages 1-3 need 500mg, 4-8 year olds need 800mg, and 9-18 year olds need 1,300mg of calcium. Children with allergies might not be getting enough of certain nutrients too.
- a child with a chronic illness. Children who suffer from asthma or diabetes might need an extra jolt of vitamins. Also, children with other illnesses like Crohn’s disease (a digestive disorder) may need vitamin injections to make sure that the nutrients are absorbed by the body.
How to Encourage Your Child to Eat Healthily
Children can be notoriously picky eaters. As such, it is sometimes difficult to make sure your child gets all the nutrients he or she needs from diet alone. Follow these tips to get through to picky eaters and lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.
- Lead by example. Children may be picky, but they can be remarkably observant. If they see you heaping carrots and peas on your plate (and eating them too!), then they are more likely to do the same.
- Be persistent about introducing healthy foods. Though your child may insist that they loathe tomatoes, keep on introducing them. According to some researchers, it can take up to 21 attempts before a child may begin to actually like a new food.
- Buy fresh whenever possible. Canned or frozen vegetables are better than no vegetables, but fresh is best.
- Avoid allowing soda pop to become a regular part of your child’s diet. 100 percent fruit juice, low-fat milk, or water are far superior options.
- Give your child appropriately sized portions. A child’s portion is between a quarter and a third the size of an adult portion.
- Variety is the spice of life. Offer your child a variety of healthy options throughout the day. Kids eat smaller portions but they tend to eat more often, which provides ample opportunity to introduce different healthy foods.
- Do not force your child to eat everything on their plate. Encourage them to try everything, but they do not have to eat the entire portion. Forcing them to do so is the first step towards overeating habits later in life.
- Do not use food as a bribe. Healthy eating habits should not be rewarded with dessert.
Raising a healthy, happy child is complicated, and a balanced diet is just one piece to this puzzle. Though supplements have their place, parents should focus on getting their children into healthy foods instead. Supplements should be used as the name implies–to supplement an already balanced lifestyle.
Lindsey's oldest son has a vitamin B12 deficiency brought about by pernicious anemia. Therefore, Lindsey feels passionately about raising awareness for vitamin B12 and other nutrient deficiencies (she recently wrote this blog article on the topic). Fortunately, her other kids will eat whatever she puts in front of them and get enough nutrients from their diet.