Commercials commonly promote a cartoon character or gummy vitamin as part of a child’s healthy diet, but many parents are unsure whether their children actually need these supplements. Our bodies do need minerals and vitamins to function normally, but in most cases a well-balanced diet can meet the body’s needs.
Children should eat a variety of foods from all five food groups. About half of their plate at each mealtime should be fruits and vegetables. One great resource for mealtime recommendations is ChooseMyPlate.gov; it’s got plenty of tips for eating healthy with your family, including recipes for well balanced meals.
Keep in mind though that there are some instances where your pediatrician may recommend a daily vitamin.
Exclusively breastfed babies should take a vitamin D supplement through 12 months of age to ensure they are getting 400 international units a day. There are liquid vitamin D formulations that your pediatrician can recommend.
In addition, once breastfed babies start on solid foods around six months of age they will need iron-fortified meals at least twice a day. This can be in the form of iron-fortified cereals, high-iron pureed vegetables or meats. Both vitamin D and iron are added to formula, so formula fed babies do not need these supplementations. Premature babies, whether breast or formula fed, have larger requirements and often need vitamins added to their diets.
If your child has limited vegetable and fruit intake, is on a special diet (e.g., vegan) or has a chronic illness you should speak with your pediatrician about whether a vitamin is recommended. There are several different forms of vitamins available for children who are not able to swallow pills, including liquid and chewable forms.
It is important to know that vitamins are a medicine and if taken in large quantities can cause side effects including life threatening illness, especially the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Be sure to keep any vitamins and other medications out of reach of children and stored in a bottle with a child safety cap. If an overdose occurs or is suspected seek medical treatment right away.