I am often asked this question and have wondered it myself considering the fact that I have a two and a half year old boy who, for the most part, is a stellar eater but tends to be sporadic with his food intake as most toddlers are. Should I be supplementing my son’s diet with a daily multivitamin? What about Vitamin D? And Omega-3? After doing some research, I’ve come to the conclusion that my son likely doesn’t need any vitamin or mineral supplements beyond Vitamin D, but I’ve also discovered that it really depends on the what the parents are feeding their child and how much of it the child is actually eating. So if you’re questioning whether you should pick up some Flintstone vitamins or Dora the Explora Omega-3 fish oil supplements for your little one to ensure they are receiving optimal nutrition, read on…
From 12-24 months of age, if your child is growing well and you are feeding them according to their hunger cues and appetite (and are feeding a fairly well-balanced diet), they are likely getting what they need through food alone. If your child is 24-36 months, they should be eating at least 4 servings of fruits and veggies, 3 servings of whole grains/starches, 2 servings of milk and other dairy products and 1 serving of meats and alternatives according to Canada’s Food Guide. If you are unsure if your child is getting this, keep a two-three day food diary of what your child is eating and then assess from there.
Another way to look at it is if your toddler is eating a fairly well balanced diet, meaning 3 meals per day containing at least 3 different foods and 2 snacks a day containing at least 2 foods– and when I say foods I mean WHOLE foods, not processed packaged foods– then they are likely meeting their nutritional requirements, even if they are not eating everything offered. Most kid’s multivitamins contain low doses of Vitamins A, B, C, D and E and some minerals, but it is unlikely that they aren’t receiving proper amounts of these nutrients from their diets anyways. Some exceptions are if your child is an extremely picky eater, failing to thrive, or has several food restrictions. In these cases, I would discuss their personal needs with a Pediatric Dietitian who may suggest a multivitamin among other supplements.
If I could suggest one Vitamin to supplement your toddler’s diet with it would be Vitamin D, especially if you live in Canada. Vitamin D is normally synthesized under our skin from sun exposure, but since we live in a climate where sun exposure is scarce (and we usually lather our kids in sunscreen when they are exposed to the sun), your little one is likely not getting enough.
You probably remember giving your baby 400 International Units (IU’s) of Vitamin D (if they were breastfed). Most kids then go on to drinking whole milk (about 2 cups per day), and eating yogurt and cheese on top of that, and at this point, most parents stop giving Vitamin D drops. However, the recommended amount of Vitamin D actually jumps from 400 IU’s to 600 IU’s after the age of one. One cup of milk only contains about 80-100 IU’s of Vitamin D, therefore, even if your child is having 2-3 servings of dairy per day, he or she is likely not meeting their requirement. Other food sources include fish, egg yolk, milk alternatives such as soy, and margarine, but even when these foods are included, your child will likely still need a supplement. I would suggest continuing to give your toddler (and older child) a 400 IU drop everyday to be on the safe side. Vitamin D is important for bone health (calcium absorption), and there is promising research to suggest that this Vitamin D can help to prevent certain cancers, heart disease and even depression.
Studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acid (specifically DHA and EPA), naturally occurring in oily fish such as salmon, halibut, tuna and trout, have beneficial effects on brain, nerve and eye development in babies, toddlers and children. Although there are no concrete guidelines on how much Omega 3 children should be consuming, some experts believe that for children ages two to three, about 430 mg of DHA and EPA combined is appropriate. The best way to ensure that your toddler is getting enough Omega-3 is to serve oily fish at least twice a week. If your child does not eat fish for one reason or another, it may be beneficial to give him or her an Omega-3 fish oil supplement that is government regulated (NPN # somewhere on label), and age appropriate, daily. For more information on Omega-3’s for kids, check out my article over at the Yummy Mummy Club here.
All in all, if your tot is eating a well balanced diet most days, is growing steadily, and does not have several food restrictions, allergies, or intolerances, he or she likely does not need to take a multivitamin but should probably be taking 400 IU’s of Vitamin D3. If your little one does not eat two servings of oily fish per week, you also may want to consider giving them an Omega 3 Fish oil supplement (approx. 430 mg DHA/EPA).
Thanks for reading!