June 19, 2023

Why a daily kids multivitamin is probably a waste of money — and what you should be giving your kids instead.

Chewable. Gummy. Plant-based. With probiotics or without. Kids multivitamins have come a long way since kids across the country started singing, “We are Flintstones kids. Ten million strong … and growing!” in the 1980s. But while you may not have missed a dose of your favorite chalky chewable as a child, now you’re getting mixed messages about giving your own children a daily dose, which begs the question: Do children need a multivitamin?

“Not usually,” said Jasmine M. Terrell, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Vanderbilt Integrated Pediatrics Tullahoma. “The majority of kids get all the vitamins and nutrients they need from their diet — even kids who are considered to be picky eaters.”

The reason is twofold, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. First, the body retains the nutrients it needs for more than a few days at a time, so even if your child eats only dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets for a week straight, they’ll still have plenty of vitamin C stored up from last week’s orange obsession. Second, lots of kid-friendly foods these days, including cereal, frozen waffles, milk and bread, are fortified with added vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, meaning your child is probably getting more nutrients than you think, even if the diet is carb-heavy.

When a multivitamin is needed

Giving your child a daily multivitamin when they’re already getting the nutrients they need from food isn’t harmful, according to Terrell.

The kids Terrell recommends multivitamins to are the extremely picky eaters, meaning they’ll only eat five or fewer different foods, none of which are a fruit or vegetable. These kids should not only take a daily multivitamin but also be enrolled in feeding therapy. Other children who may require a daily multivitamin are kids who have a developmental delay or a physical impairment that precludes them from being able to eat a variety of foods for an extended period of time.

Vitamin D is a different story

While a daily multivitamin for kids is usually unnecessary, there is one supplement you should add to your shopping list, and that’s vitamin D.

“This is a tough one to get through diet alone,” Terrell said, “particularly if your child doesn’t drink (fortified) milk or orange juice.”

Even breastfed babies should receive a vitamin D supplement in the form of drops mom can put on her nipple before a feeding or add to expressed milk when bottle feeding. Infant formula is already fortified with vitamin D, so there’s no need to supplement when formula feeding.

Babies younger than 12 months should get 400 IU of vitamin D in supplement form per day. Children 1 and older need 600 IU each day. Supplements are available in liquid, chewable and gummy form.

Expert primary care

The Pediatric Primary Care program of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt ensures quality care for the region’s children, as close to home as possible.

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