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Vitamin and mineral supplements — do your kids need them?

We all need vitamins and minerals to stay healthy, including children. These nutrients help your body grow, repair itself, make bones, muscles and skin, and do other essential things.

Getting vitamins and minerals from food 

While we need a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, we only need a small amount of each type.

So generally, your kids can get all the vitamins and minerals they need with a healthy, balanced diet suitable for their age and activity levels.

A healthy, balanced diet includes vegetables, fruit, cereal foods such as bread, pasta and rice (preferably wholegrains), protein-rich foods (such as lean meat, fish and legumes), and dairy foods.

Recommended average daily number of serves from each of the five food groups*

table of daily number of serves of the 5 food groups

Are supplements necessary? 

If your child is eating a healthy, well-balanced diet appropriate for their age and activity levels, it’s unlikely they’ll need supplements. The best way to get your vitamins and minerals is from a healthy, well-balanced diet, because we absorb vitamins and minerals better when eaten as part of our usual diet. 

Nutritional supplements are just that – they’re only necessary to supplement (‘add to’) an existing healthy, eating plan if you need help with something that’s missing. 

Generally, supplements are only required if your doctor, pharmacist or accredited practising dietitian suggests it’s necessary for your child. For example, some parents may be concerned that their children are low on important vitamins and minerals either because they’re unable to eat certain foods (e.g. due to medical conditions like coeliac disease), are vegetarian or vegan, or are particularly picky eaters. In those cases, a supplement may be appropriate – for example, a calcium supplement for children who can’t have dairy products or an iron supplement if a blood test shows your child is low in iron.

However, if you add a supplement when it’s not necessary, you run the risk of having too much of certain vitamins or minerals in their body that can be bad for them – eg. too much vitamin C or zinc can lead to nausea, diarrhoea and stomach cramps, and too much vitamin A can cause skin problems and damage your liver.

So before you give any vitamin or mineral supplements to your child, always check with your doctor, pharmacist or accredited practising dietitian to make sure it’s appropriate for your kids and doesn’t interact with any medications they may already be taking.

Healthy eating tips for your children 

For a number of reasons some children may not get enough vitamins and minerals. In these cases, you may need to help make sure they get what they need.

Picky or fussy eaters

It’s important to encourage your children to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet but don’t worry too much if your child is a bit fussy or picky at first. Try some of the following tips if you want to help broaden their tastes:

  • Children often learn by watching you – so eat the foods you want your child to eat. If you’re avoiding the veggies, they’ll likely give them a miss too
  • There’s comfort in the familiar, so help your kids by setting regular meal and snack times. And it’s OK if they eat less of a particular meal – they may just eat a bit more at the next meal to make up for it
  • Make meal time fun – focus on the positives rather than the negatives, so give praise if they willingly try new foods and learn to ignore the odd spilled drink or mess on the table
  • Help them feel they have some control of their eating experience – a good rule of thumb is that you choose what types of food they eat and they get to choose how much they eat
  • You can also offer them choice within the healthy foods you want them to eat – for example, give them two or three options (eg. “Would you like carrot or celery sticks with your sandwich at lunch?”)
  • Eating as a family or with other children can help as they may be more likely to try certain foods if they see others tucking in. If they still aren’t willing to try a certain food, keep offering it at other times
  • You may need to compromise – perhaps it’s enough if your child tries at least one bite of all the food on their plate, or takes a certain number of mouthfuls of a new food.

Often it’s tempting to use ‘sometimes’ or treat foods (like sweet drinks, lollies, chips or cakes) as a bribe or substitute for a healthy meal. But unfortunately this kind of easy fix won’t help your kids get the essential vitamins and minerals they need or develop healthy eating habits in the long run.

Vegetarians or vegans

If your child has a vegetarian or vegan diet, these tips may help them get the vitamins and minerals they need:

  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and 1-2 serves of fruit every day
  • Eat plenty of iron-rich foods such as lentils, beans, nuts, pumpkin seeds, tofu and iron-fortified breakfast cereals
  • Drink soya, rice or oat drinks fortified with calcium to make sure you get enough calcium
  • Vegans should look for foods fortified with vitamin B12, including breakfast cereals, soy products and rice, oat or almond drinks. They may also need a vitamin B12 supplement.

Kids with particular health conditions

For children who have health conditions that affect food absorption, such as coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease, they may have difficulty getting all the vitamins and minerals needed from food alone. If that’s the case, talk to your GP or accredited practising dietitian about how your kids can get all the vitamins and minerals they need.

Further Information 

Eat for Health 
www.eatforhealth.gov.au

Dietitians’ Association of Australia
www.daa.asn.au

Sources 

Australian Government: National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Department of Health. Recommended number of serves for children, adolescents and toddlers [online]. 2013 [accessed Mar 2014]. Available from: www.eatforhealth.gov.au

Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). Vitamins. [online] [accessed Mar 2014] Available from: www.daa.asn.au

DAA. Minerals. [online] [accessed Mar 2014] Available from: www.daa.asn.au

NHMRC. Nutrient Reference Values [online] [accessed Mar 2014] Available from: www.nrv.gov.au

Raising Children Network. Vitamins and Minerals [online] [last updated Sept 2011, accessed Mar 2014] Available from: www.raisingchildren.net.au

Last updated: 15 April 2014

Disclaimer
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.