​Filling in the Gaps in your Child’s Nutrition

Think about how fast kids grow and change from infancy through their teen years. Babies triple their weight in the first year. And up until puberty, children grow an average of two inches in height each year. For children to thrive, all of this growth depends on a solid nutritional foundation. Yet as any parent can tell you, kids can be picky eaters. How can mom and dad be sure that their little ones are getting all that they need to thrive, nutrient wise? Here are some ideas.

Start with food. Kids should get the nutrition they need from a broad range of healthy foods. Yet there is a tendency to want only their favorite foods and sometimes an outright refusal to try new things. This is where a good kid’s multivitamin can save the day by filling in nutritional gaps. It provides insurance that kids can meet the minimum daily requirements of the most important vitamins and minerals.

Beyond a multi, parents need to be sure kids, from babies to college age, are getting the critically important omega-3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The omega-3 DHA supports healthy brain and vision development and is important in the early years because of the increase in brain mass that occurs from birth through puberty. DHA is a building block for the brain and is especially abundant in grey matter and in the retina.

DHA supports healthy mood, behavior, and cognition. Babies will establish better sleep habits and even school children sleep better when they get DHA from foods or in supplements.

The omega-3s EPA and DHA are especially important to the adolescent brain. During the teenage years, the regions of the brain associated with learning and memory undergo significant growth, requiring an abundant supply of these fats. But a typical child’s diet is lacking in omega-3s. Adding insult to injury, studies also indicate that eating the fats found in junk food as a child appears to have long-lasting effects on learning and memory in adulthood. It’s clear that reducing the intake of junk food and saturated fats while increasing omega-3 intake is an important strategy for supporting teenagers’ brain health. Adding omega-3s to your teen’s diet is a small action that has a huge impact on healthy brain development.

We can help our kids get DHA by serving cold-water fish, like tuna or salmon, at least twice a week, and by providing DHA through supplements. Omega-3 liquids can be stirred into anything your child likes, such as hummus, yogurt, salsa, or even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Boosting vitamin D intake is a good idea for many reasons. A deficiency of vitamin D is linked to asthma and allergies in obese children and teenagers, and vitamin D is needed for a healthy immune system. Adequate vitamin D intake ensures that the body absorbs and retains calcium and phosphorus, critical nutrients for building healthy bones, and a deficiency increases the risk of bone fractures in older children, teens, and adults.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, recent studies show that most kids aren’t getting enough of this essential vitamin through diet alone. The recommended daily allowance is 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D for infants 0 to 12 months and 600 IU (15 mcg) for most children.

Along with vitamin D, calcium is needed during childhood to build strong bones and teeth. Bones grow rapidly during adolescence, and teens need enough of this mineral to continue to build bone strength and prevent bone loss later in life.

Calcium is also vital for stimulating the activity of neurons in the brain. It plays an important role in muscle growth and contraction. Calcium is also needed to support healthy blood clotting, the heart’s rhythm, proper functioning of the cell membranes, and the release of hormones.

One survey found that in the US, less than 15 percent of teenage girls met the recommended calcium intake, and government statistics report that about one-third of kids ages 4 to 8 aren’t getting enough calcium. Too much juice and sugary drinks and too little milk may be partly to blame. Furthermore, soda and caffeinated beverages interfere with the body’s absorption of calcium. About 1,000 mg of calcium, or two cups of milk (or a dairy equivalent) is adequate for normal bone growth between ages 8 and 16 years. For kids of all ages—especially kids who can’t consume dairy due to lactose intolerance or an allergy—a supplement will provide a daily dose of calcium. Chewable calcium and liquid vitamin D are a delicious and convenient way to ensure your child is getting enough of these important nutrients.

In addition to a diet rich in citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, broccoli, and red peppers, a vitamin C supplement will supply all of the vitamin C your child needs for optimal health. If your child is in school or daycare, you’re likely all too familiar with the wide variety of germs that get passed around a classroom. Therefore, immune-boosting vitamin C is another important supplement to consider for the whole family. Vitamin C is important for the healthy growth of teeth, gums, bones, ligaments, and blood vessels.

Speaking of the immune system, along with promoting gastrointestinal health by defending against occasional gas and bloating, probiotics are linked to strong immunity (after all, about 80 percent of the immune system is located in the gut), making probiotics a wise addition to any child’s supplement regimen. Kid’s Probiotics Stix offer a delicious way to give kids the protection of probiotics in a smoothie or just dissolved on the tongue.

Good nutrition during childhood sets the stage for healthy development and helps ensure a healthy adulthood.