Good nutrition plays a vital role in your child’s learning and development, but expert opinion varies on whether or not vitamin supplements are really necessary for the vast majority of children. Many experts believe that children don’t need additional vitamins as long as they eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg, dairy, meat, fish, beans, pulses and eggs, and have the chance to go outside every day, as sunlight helps the body process vitamin D.
However, in practice, getting the average toddler to eat a well balanced diet can prove pretty tricky (spinach and broccoli, anyone?). Because of this, the government’s Food Standards Agency now recommends that all children aged from six months to two years (or five, if they are not eating a wide enough range of foods) should be given supplements providing vitamins A, C and D. The only exception to this is if your toddler is still taking over 500ml of formula milk a day, as that already has vitamins A, C and D added. Your health visitor can advise you on appropriate supplements to give to your toddler.
Other situations where extra vitamins could be helpful for your child include:
If your child has a poor diet or is a very picky eater, you might want to give her a supplement to boost her nutrition levels. However, don’t use it as a substitute for good, healthy food – you need to take steps to improve her eating habits, too, but a multivitamin could help give you peace of mind while you address her dietary issues.
After an illness
If your toddler has been particularly run down with a never-ending series of coughs, colds and bugs, you may want try a course of vitamin supplements, especially if it’s a problem persuading her to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Children with chronic medical conditions like asthma or diabetes can also benefit from a multivitamin supplement, but always talk to your GP first – especially if your child is on medication.
Children following a restricted diet may struggle to take in all the nutrients they need to grow and develop properly. For example, children eating a vegetarian or vegan diet may need an iron, zinc or vitamin B12 supplement, while a child who is allergic to milk and follows a dairy-free regime may need additional calcium. Again, always check with your GP or health visitor first.
Choosing a good supplement
To find the best vitamin supplement for your child, either visit your GP, your local pharmacy or your local NHS Child Health Clinic. You can get vitamin supplements in a variety of flavours and formats, including liquid, lozenges to suck or swallow and chewable ‘sweets’, so choose one that your child is likely to take willingly: a toddler who is fussy about chewing may get on better with a liquid multivitamin, for example.
Always check the Recommended Daily Amounts (RDAs) on the packet to make sure they match the recommended dose for your child’s age – most list RDAs as percentages of your child’s requirements. And pick one that’s a sensible price; while you don’t have to blow half the weekly shopping budget on supplements, this is one thing that it’s probably best not to get from the pound shop.
Always make sure you keep the vitamins somewhere safe, well out of reach of your child, as an overdose of iron, in particular, can be very dangerous.
Still not sure?
Speak to your GP or health visitor if you need more advice on whether your child would benefit from a vitamin supplement, or if you have any other concerns about her diet.