Children require a varied, healthy diet full of essential nutrients. This will help keep them full of energy, growing at the right rate and able to fight off any bugs. We discuss 5 of the best vitamins and minerals that your child needs to have in their diet to grow strong and healthy.
The Important Nutrients Your Child Needs
Vitamin A is essential for vision (particularly in lower-intensity light), developing a strong immune system, and maintaining healthy skin.
Vitamin A can be found in a variety of foods including:
This vitamin is found in a range of foods, particularly fruit and vegetables, but fussy eaters may miss out on getting enough. Vitamin C
is important for immunity, healing cuts and keeping gums and blood vessels healthy. It plays a role in forming and repairing tissues and also helps the body absorb iron from food.
Try and include a variety of fruit and vegetables in your child's diet, such as strawberries, blackcurrants, bell peppers and oranges. If they don't like a new food at first, don't get angry or give up – instead remove the food without any fuss and try again the next day. This gives them chance to become more familiar with the new food, and after a few attempts they may decide to give it a go, so be patient.
The main source of vitamin D is sunlight, with only a few foods containing it, such as oily fish, mushrooms and fortified foods. As it's also important to protect children's skin from the sun, they can be at risk of deficiency, particularly those under the age of 5 who are recommended to be given a supplement. Vitamin D
deficiency can be a cause of rickets, a condition affecting bone development, causing bones to soften and weaken and leading to deformities.
Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth, and it's important for children to get enough as they are growing and developing at a rapid rate. It also plays a key role in nerve and muscle function, including heart contractions, and blood clotting.
It is recommended that children have around 3 servings a day of calcium-rich foods, such as a glass of milk, a matchbox-sized piece of cheese, and a small pot of yoghurt. Alternatives to dairy which are good sources of calcium include:
It's important your child gets enough iron as this mineral is essential for making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It's also involved in energy production, with fatigue being a common symptom of deficiency. Iron deficiency anaemia can be a particular concern for teenage girls so it's important they eat a varied diet containing good sources of iron. Your doctor can carry out a blood test to check iron levels if you're worried about your child.
Good sources of iron include:
Should I Give My Child Vitamin Supplements?
Food should always be the main source of nutrients and it's essential you aim to provide a healthy, varied diet to give your child a good start in life. However, there are instances where it can be tricky to ensure your child is getting everything they need (something the parents of fussy eaters will definitely understand!) so supplements can be a useful backup.
The Department of Health currently recommends that all children aged 6 months to 5 years receive vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D. These are included in the Healthy Start vitamins provided for children in families who qualify for the scheme.
Other nutrients which may be of concern include vitamin B12, protein and omega 3 fatty acids for children who are following a vegetarian or vegan diet. A balanced diet and supplementation where necessary should provide everything a healthy child needs.
Always remember to check the dosage of any supplement is appropriate for your child's age and choose specific children's supplements
where possible. Consult with your GP if you're unsure whether your child needs supplements or for advice related to dosage.