If you’re struggling with a hard-headed toddler who won’t eat what’s best or a preschooler who is on a peanut butter jag, you might worry that your child’s diet is deficient and think you should provide vitamin supplements or a multivitamin.
According to the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), healthy infants and toddlers can meet their nutritional requirements with food alone. Many items in our food supply are fortified with nutrients such as vitamin A, zinc, and folate. This increased level of nutrients makes vitamin toxicity a real risk for young children, particularly if they are good eaters and are receiving a multivitamin and mineral supplement. If you have a child who eats a variety of foods, a multivitamin isn’t needed.
Instead of a multivitamin, the best insurance policy against a nutrient deficiency is to offer your child meals and snacks throughout the day, about every 2-3 hours for infants and toddlers. Make sure to include all the food groups daily, such as dairy (or non-dairy substitutes), grains, fruit, vegetables, protein sources, and healthy sources of fat. Don’t offer the same foods over and over; instead try rotating foods within each food group to expose your child to different flavors and foods. For example, instead of serving apples every day, you could offer cut up oranges, clementines, grapes, berries, melon, and peaches. Keep rotating through all the different fruits until your child has been exposed to most, if not all, of them. Approach each food group the same way, thus increasing the odds of meeting your child’s vitamin and mineral requirements.
Some children have eating patterns that may create nutrient deficits, such as a food allergy in which one food group is eliminated, or extremely picky eating. Children who are allergic to milk, for example, need a milk substitute that will offer similar amounts of nutrients, especially calcium, vitamin D, protein, and fat. Children who are poor eaters and are showing poor growth, or who have special nutrient needs, may benefit from a multivitamin and mineral supplement to cover their nutrient requirements.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020
- Most children do not require a multivitamin or mineral supplement.
- Many infants and toddlers can meet their nutritional requirements without supplements.
- Feed your child throughout the day with meals and snacks from all food groups.
- Children with specific allergies or poor eaters may benefit from mineral supplements.