To supplement or not to supplement. That is the question.
While vitamins are typically not harmful to children, ideally your child is getting enough nutrition from the food he or she eats.
“Even picky eaters get all of the nutrients they need from food,” explains Rachel Dawkins, M.D., director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “So typically kids don’t need vitamins, but every kid is different and has different needs, so consult your pediatrician if you are worried.”
There are exceptions. “Infants, especially breastfed infants, need vitamin D supplementation and premature infants may be prescribed a multivitamin with iron before discharge from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU),” Dawkins adds.
Of course, you may decide to give your kids vitamins anyway as an insurance policy. That’s fine, especially once your pediatrician has given the go-ahead. Just make sure to choose a vitamin that is formulated to your child’s age group. Vitamins, taken properly, won’t do any harm. Just don’t let them take the place of a healthy diet, which children need for good growth.
Follow the “rainbow diet” and make sure your kids eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables to get the nutrients they need. In fact, according to the USDA, children should get one to two cups of fruit and one to three cups of vegetables each day. Then, if you feel the need, give them a multivitamin as a bonus. Dawkins doesn’t favor the gummy kind because they aren’t great on the teeth.
If you do give your kids vitamins, Dawkins warns, never call them “candy.”
“When I was a kid, my brother ate all of the Flintstones vitamins because he thought they were candy,” she recalls, shaking her head with a grin. “Poison control was very helpful, and he was just fine,” she explains. “But why risk letting kids think they are candy?”
Most experts—including the American Academy of Pediatrics—don’t offer an official position on vitamins, so if you’re still on the fence, talk with your pediatrician to help make a final decision.