Childhood is an important time for growth. It’s a vital time for mental development, motor skills, and physical growth. And as children grow, its necessary that they are receiving all the proper nutrition from a balanced diet to ensure optimal health.
This includes essential nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, but also fundamental minerals and vitamins for development.
Daily nutrient needs for children
Though everyone needs the same type of nutrients — such as vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fat. However, the daily needs of these nutrients for children is vastly different than those for adults, which is reflective of the smaller body size coupled with rapid physical growth and mental development.
Nutrient needs for children are dependent on age, sex, size, growth, and activity level. According to the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for young children, energy requirements between the ages of 2 and 8 are 1,000–1,400 calories each day. Those ages 9–13 need 1,400–2,600 calories daily with some variation (1). Other micronutrients (calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C, D, B12), important for development also have DRIs for children.
Resources like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate provides simple yet detailed healthy eating recommendations for children. Components of a child’s balanced diet should include all of the follows at every meal (2) —
- Vegetables – Are low in calories and high in fiber. Vitamins and minerals abundant in vegetables are vitamins A, C, and E, magnesium, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, and folic acid.
- Fruits – Much like vegetables, fruits are low in calories, high in fiber, and contain many of the same vitamins and minerals.
- Grains – Whole grains are the type of grains to focus on for a child’s diet. Micronutrients high in grains include B vitamins, iron, and magnesium.
- Proteins – Lean proteins are most known for their high availability of Vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid.
- Dairy – Liquids like milk are beneficial when it comes to growth, containing vitamins A, D, and B12, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous.
4 essential vitamins and minerals for children’s development
There are several micronutrients that are essential for proper growth. However, there are five that are essential for development.
- Calcium – Calcium is an important building block for bone tissue. This mineral is most commonly found in dairy products, but can also be found in certain fruits and vegetables. Too little calcium in the early years can cause bone density issues and prevent children from reaching their full potential height as adults.
- Iron –Iron is involved in brain development in early life and is found in several vegetables and animal products or by-products. Lack of iron causes a condition called iron deficiency anemia (IDA) that results in growth and cognitive retardation (3).
- Vitamin D – Much like calcium, vitamin D is involved in bone formation and growth via growth hormone (GH). Vitamin D is normally fortified in many calcium-rich food sources, like daily products. A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to lack of bone mineralization, hence weak bones.
- B Vitamins –Vitamin B is crucial for brain development in early life; primarily B6 (folate) and B12. These vitamins are most abundant in animal products or by-products. Children who lack the recommended intake of B6 and B12 are at risk for developmental delays, anorexia, or neurological
Multivitamins for children
Even when children are consuming the recommended DRIs, they may need to add a multivitamin. Supplementing multivitamins into the diet ensures meeting the body’s need to carry out developmental functions.
There are also certain categories of children who should be using multivitamins on a regular basis to ensure their daily intake of essential vitamins and minerals are being met. These are children who are at risk for nutrient deficiencies, including those who are (1):
- Extremely picky eaters (or struggle to eat a variety of fortified foods)
- On a vegetarian or vegan diet
- Suffering from a condition that affects the absorption of or increases the need for nutrients, (i.e., food allergies, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD))
- Have had surgery that impacts their digestive system (stomach and/or intestines)
Dietary preferences, like vegetarianism, or veganism, that lack a variety of food types and/or animal products are at risk of calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins B12 and D deficiencies (1). Also, children with gastrointestinal diseases are at risk for deficiencies of several different vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, vitamin D, and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) (1).
Nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition during childhood can lead to serious consequences over time, like abnormal or stunted growth or developmental delays. But this can be avoided by supplementing a child’s diet with reliable multivitamin.
Purchasing a reliable multivitamin for your child
If you believe your child is failing to grow both physically and developmentally and are suspecting a nutrient deficiency, you may want to look into a reliable multivitamin for your child.
When selecting a reliable multivitamin, ensure your ultimate choice is high-quality, designed for your child's age group, and doesn't provide more than 100% of the Daily Value of vitamins and minerals (4).
In addition, ensure you keep multivitamins out of your child's reach and invest time in educating your child on multivitamin use. Education is especially important if you purchase the gummy-style multivitamin, which can be mistaken for candy (leading to potential toxicity).
Seek advice from a medical professional
It’s important to note that while several are picky eaters, many common foods — like breakfast cereal, milk, and orange juice — are fortified with key nutrients, such as B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium and iron (4). Due to this your child may be getting more vitamins and minerals than you assume, which is why you want to be cautious of vitamin and mineral megadoses. These can be toxic, especially for fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K that are stored in body fat (1).
Consult with a healthcare professional to discuss if you are consuming an adequate amount of the recommended vitamins and minerals through your daily diet.
And as always, if you are experiencing any of negative reactions and/or if a(n) multivitamin may interact with medications your child takes, seek out the advice of a medical professional immediately.
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD