Do you ever glance despairingly at what goes untouched on your toddler’s plate or consider what never makes it there in the first place and wish you could buy yourself a nutritional safety net to go along with a good book on the subject of food fights? If so, you are not alone. It has been estimated that just over half of all preschoolers are given multivitamins. We’re pretty sure that’s a good bit more than are served broccoli on any given day. And we’re quite sure we can relate to the reasons why. When the going gets tough, it is often a whole lot easier to reach for a quick fix in a bottle of Flintstones vitamins and forget the fight. The fact that there are so many parents who do just that isn’t so much a food fight, per se, but a reflection on the parental feelings so many of us share that what we’re feeding our children is nutritionally inadequate. While we can definitely understand the sentiment, it compels us to address the fundamental question: What role should multivitamins play in your child’s diet, and is it you or your child that stands to benefit from them more?
Who Needs ‘Em, Anyway?
We’ll come right out and say what most nutrition experts have been saying all along: Most children don’t need vitamin supplements at all! Yes, we realize that the perfect, vegetable-loving, cooperative eater we all long for doesn’t exist. But even taking all food fights into consideration, there are nevertheless very few instances in which a child’s diet is likely to leave him truly deficient. If you need further convincing, we suggest you consider the following facts:
•The amount your child needs to eat to get enough vitamins and minerals from his food alone is probably much smaller than you think.
•Even for the pickiest of eaters, it doesn’t take more than a very few picks from each of the basic food groups for children to get their recommended daily dose.
•Many vitamins can be stored in the body. This means that your child doesn’t have to eat each and every one, every day—affording you the option of spreading your efforts at achieving a balanced diet out over the course of a week or two without spreading the vitamins too thin.
•Ironically enough, parents who are most likely to give multivitamins are also those who are most likely to be feeding their children healthy diets in the first place.
•Vitamins can be found in some unlikely sources. Calcium doesn’t just have to come from cows, since it is contained in both supplements and many nondairy foods ranging from salmon, tofu, spinach, and sardines to rhubarb, baked beans, bok choy, and almonds—admittedly not all of which are an easy sell at the dinnertable, but at least you have plenty to choose from!
•And finally, many foods these days are fortified. That means that even if your child favors foods that do not come naturally loaded with all of the necessary nutrients, all hope is not lost; it’s entirely possible that food manufacturers have added them in for you. Classic examples include the vitamin D fortification of milk, margarine, and pudding, and the calcium contained in kid-friendly foods such as orange juice, cereals, breads, and even Eggo waffles.