You want the best for your child, and that includes meeting nutritional needs. If your child eats erratically or occasionally sticks to the same healthy foods, he is probably getting sufficient nutrients. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children do not require high quantities of vitamins and nutrients, so a relatively balanced diet typically satisfies their needs. If your child is more selective or tends to skip meals, certain supplements will make the difference.
Don't Play Doctor
We think of vitamins as healthy, so giving nutritional supplements to picky kids seems like a no-brainer. However, AAP recommends that parents consult with their children's pediatrician or a certified nutritionist to guide them through the process. Supplements are drugs, so using them in the best combinations and within the recommended amounts will get you the results you seek—a healthy child with all the nutrients he needs to flourish.
A Truly Balanced Diet
Supplements are just that—supplemental. If you and your pediatrician decide to offer an iron supplement to boost your child's energy and alertness, for example, you can still provide diverse sources of iron in the diet, such as spinach, lean animal proteins and unsweetened whole grains. If a vitamin D supplement makes up for lack of exposure to sunshine during those dark winter months, you can still serve tuna, salmon and eggs.
Elizabeth Ooms, RN, recommends maximizing the healthy potential of a picky eater's diet by giving supplements as well as losing the processed snacks and sugary treats. With less junk food around, your child just might sample something from that fruit plate with yogurt dip or those vegetable slices paired with cheese and whole grain crackers. Ooms adds, "Offer favorite foods. A mono-diet is fine as long as it is healthy."
Ooms has tons of quick and simple strategies for supplementing children's diets. She says, "To add nutrition, put a teeny bit of brewers' yeast in some food. You can put wheat germ in hot cereal as it cooks." Start slowly with small amounts, though, because picky children can get fussy if they notice any change in how their favorite foods taste.
Whip up smoothies or healthy milkshakes and add calories and nutrients with nonfat Greek yogurt or local honey. Oooms adds, "You can add protein powder to blended drinks also. Try orange juice, yogurt, some vanilla, some honey and some protein powder. Make this the night before and let it it meld in the refrigerator so the tastes go together." For years, she has been sneaking wheat germ into her family's favorite cookie recipes and mixing yogurt into pancake and cake batter. She suggests that a tiny bit of spirulina and powdered milk will enrich a milk-based drink.
Basic Nutritional Needs
Your child's pediatrician is the best person to answer your questions about your child's nutrition needs. In addition, The AAP site gives parents an outline of the essential nutrients children need. They require vitamin A in order to grow, have healthy skin and support tissue repair. The range of B vitamins supports the creation of red blood cells. For the health of your child's skin, muscles, tissue and immune system, vitamin C is key. vitamin D keeps children's bones and teeth strong.
Changing Children, Changing Needs
Just as children grow and change rapidly, so do their nutritional needs. Consult with your pediatrician or a pediatric nutritionist if your child's diet or eating habits suddenly change. Growth spurts or extended periods of intense activity such as training for competitive sports can sap key nutrients from your child's body. Your child may need iron supplements or additional calcium to compensate for these changes and make sure that their blood production, muscle growth and bone development stay on track.