Plus: How to make sure even your biggest spinach-hater is getting enough
Most kids have their share of likes and dislikes when it comes to food. (Anyone who’s had a standoff with a four-year-old over a random vegetable can vouch for this.) But sometimes those “eww I’m not eating that” moments cause more than drama at the dinner table. They can cause a nutrient deficiency. This list lays out key nutrients for little ones—and shows how some carefully chosen supplements can help ensure they hit their required intakes.
Not only is calcium important for helping build strong bones as a child grows through to young adulthood, but it’s also essential for muscle contraction, nerve signaling, and hormone release. Bone calcium starts to decrease in young adulthood, so getting off to a healthy start is critical to strong bones later in life.
It’s especially important to ensure adequate calcium intakes for children who don’t consume dairy (hi, vegan fams!). If you need to consider supplements, check the amount of “elemental” calcium in each tablet and remember that calcium is best absorbed when taken in small doses with food.*
Children’s bodies need vitamin D for bone and tooth formation: Vitamin D helps them to absorb calcium. Vitamin D also has benefits for immune health, mental health, and overall life expectancy. It’s kind of a big deal.
Few foods naturally carry a ton of vitamin D, and many that do are foods your kids may not like or be able to eat if your family follows a plant-based diet (sardines, anyone?). If you can’t get outside with your kids to safely soak up some naturally occurring vitamin D from sunlight, your best bet is to supplement. Options are many, including drops, gummies, and chewables.
An essential nutrient, potassium plays an important role in maintaining total body fluid volume, acid and electrolyte balance, and normal cell function. Because potassium is closely aligned with sodium levels in the body, and reduced potassium consumption has been associated with hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, the World Health Organization recently put out guidelines for balancing intakes—for both adults and children.
If your child isn’t eating a lot of fresh produce and whole foods, where potassium can naturally be found (looking at you, dinnertime wailer), you might want to consider supplements. Some multivitamin preparations include potassium—but many don’t. Supplemental potassium comes as fizzy dissolving tablets, long-acting tablets or capsules, powders, and liquids.
Supplements aren’t solely for filling nutrient gaps. The ones below can support your family’s immunity as we head into cold and flu season, either by combating invading viruses or by speeding up recovery.
Thought to have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, elderberry may help ease congestion by reducing swelling in mucous membranes. It may also reduce cold duration. As a bonus, elderberry has shown promise in lab studies for combating influenza type A and B viruses.
When you or your kiddos catch a cold, starting echinacea as soon as symptoms appear provides the best chance for a beneficial effect. The root of Echinacea purpurea may help lessen symptom severity and shorten the duration of that snot- and cough-filled nightmare.
When taken within a day of symptoms starting, zinc may help speed up recovery from a cold, as well as lessen the severity of symptoms.
A diverse set of gut flora teaches kids’ developing immune systems to differentiate between friend and foe. Plus, having the right set of gut microbes boosts the activity of immune cells in the gut. Probiotics, aka “good” bacteria, can help with this. Probiotics may also be beneficial for reducing allergies and atopic eczema.
Probiotic supplements are regarded as safe and are generally well tolerated by children. Both probiotics and vitamin D can regulate immune functions and, when taken consistently, have been shown to decrease the frequency of upper respiratory tract infections.
Yes, whole natural foods are the best source of important nutrients for kids. But, as we’ve pretty well established now, kids can be super picky eaters. When you feel the need to fill those nutritional gaps, multis—usually a combination of necessary vitamins and minerals—are there for you. They’ve got this.
With a variety of kid-friendly forms, including gummies, chewables, and powdered drink mixes, there’s an easy option for any fussy child. Just be sure to check the ingredient label before you buy to ensure you’re not buying artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners.
In a 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients, the authors wrote, “A completely plant-based diet is suitable during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, and childhood, provided that it is well planned.” Nutrients to pay particular attention to, in addition to the ones we’ve already listed, include protein, fiber, omega-3s, iron, zinc, iodine, and vitamin B12. Sometimes diet can be tweaked, and other times supplements may be necessary. Chat with a health professional to make sure your children aren’t missing out on any nutrients.