Kids, naturally, need vitamins and minerals. Not only do they need them for the same reasons we do, but they also need extra vitamins and minerals to build their bodies up to their full adult size. A deficiency in even one micronutrient would mean a kid develops rickets, skin problems, allergies, or a poor attention span. So, naturally, as parents we want to feed our kids the healthiest possible diet, loaded with vitamins and minerals. But it isn't always as simple as wanting and doing.
When we try and feed our kids properly, it can be a real challenge to keep on top of the micronutrients, for two major reasons. The first reason is that it is easy to follow macronutrients, that is, fats, proteins, and carbs, because they are really obvious and memorable; but it is not so simple to follow micronutrients. You may be able to say, for example, whether bread is high in carbs or not, and even the number of calories per slice. But could you tell me, off the top of your head, how much selenium it has? There are just too many micronutrients, and our kids' needs are just too variable, for us to be aware of all the different things they may need in all the different foods they may eat.
And the second reason is that our kids generally do not like nutrient rich foods. As adults we either enjoy, or tolerate, foods that are very high in micronutrients. Liver, broccoli, and mushrooms, for example, are either enjoyed or dutifully swallowed by adults to make sure that they get all their micronutrients, sort of like a natural multivitamin. But kids are not so happy to eat these things. Which means that one of the few guaranteed ways of loading up on vitamins and minerals is not an option.
However, there are ways of ensuring that our kids eat enough micronutrients. The first is pure and simple: variety. If your kid eats enough different foods, they are bound to eat enough micronutrients over the course of the week. Make sure your kids eat at least one food from each category every week: nuts and seeds, leaves, berries, sweet fruit, non-sweet fruit, starches, legumes, meats or substitutes, dairy or substitutes, and omega 3 rich foods. You may not consistently hit their RDA, but other days you may exceed it, balancing things out a little.
There are a few other great tricks. For example, you can work out the micronutrient contents of their favorite whole foods. This way, you can tell them what they need to eat that day to hit their micronutrient needs, and why. Plus, because you're only learning about twenty or so different foods, it is much easier to memorize their vitamin and mineral levels. So we can keep a better eye on our kids' nutrition and push them in the right direction.
Another great way of getting your kids to eat vitamins and minerals is to bargain. Simply talking with your kids about the importance of these nutrients is sometimes enough to persuade them. Other times you may need to offer a reward, or to combine a nutrient-dense food with a desired treat to get them to eat properly.
Finally, if all else fails, you might want to consider a children's multivitamin. If you really have tried everything and there is no way this kid will get nutrients from whole food, then it is better to throw in the towel and feed them a multivitamin than to let them go without their essential vitamins and minerals! Talk to your doctor about your child's dietary requirements and current eating habits, so that you can work out a meal plan and supplement combination which will suit your child and your family best. And remember: there is no shame in supplements if that's what you need to do. Perhaps your kid is a supertaster, or autistic, or going through a growth spurt. They may have a legitimate reason for avoiding healthy foods, and it is your job as a parent to nourish them, not let them go without vital nutrients because an internet guru said whole foods were the only way.
Lisa Ann de Garcia, MA, MEd.