Eat the Vitamins, Kids: The Parental Approach

By Whitney Crouch, RDN, CLT

This is part two of a two-part series. Read the first post on nutrient deficiencies in kids’ diets.

Filling nutrient gaps in kids’ diets

A large study of 16,110 individuals aged 2 years and older, known as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found 25-70% of those surveyed to be eating less than the EAR for vitamins A (34%), C (25%), D (70%), and E (60%); calcium (38%); and magnesium (45%).1 Enrichment and fortification within the food supply largely contributed to the levels of vitamins A, C, and D, thiamine, iron, and folate reaching levels that were attained by diet.1 These statistics shed light on both the importance of nutrient fortification of certain foods in our food system and on the importance of nurturing healthy nutrition habits early and often.

Top 5 foods to help fill the gaps:2

  1. Vitamin A: liver, sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, spinach
  2. Vitamin C: acerola cherry, sweet bell peppers, peaches, mustard greens, broccoli
  3. Vitamin D: mushrooms (exposed to UV light), salmon, sardines, whole egg, cow’s milk
  4. Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, avocado, spinach
  5. Calcium: sesame seeds, cheese, tofu, sardines, edamame
  6. Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, edamame, almonds, Swiss chard, black beans

Enriched and fortified orange and apple juices are also good sources of vitamins C, D, and calcium, but watch out for sugar content. Cod liver oil is also a great source of vitamins A and D.2

You may be thinking, “Okay that’s great, but my child will not eat liver, mushrooms, or broccoli.” According to child feeding specialist Ellyn Satter, there is a division of responsibility between parent and child when it comes to meal and snack time nutrition intake.3 What does this mean?

A parent’s job is to: 

  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meals and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Step-by-step, show your child by example how to behave at family mealtimes
  • Be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes by providing one or two side dishes your child likes at each meal and include something he or she is still learning to like
  • Avoid excess foods and beverages (except for water) between meals and snack times
  • Let your child grow into the body that is right for him or her

Part of your feeding job is trusting that your child will:  

  • Eat the amount he or she needs
  • Learn to eat the food you eat

Bottom line: According to Ms. Satter, you are responsible for what, when, and where your child eats; your child is responsible for how much and whether to eat or not.8 Get creative in the kitchen, share the cooking experience, and lead by example with nutrient-dense food choices regularly. If you have a creative flair, creating “artwork” with the food on the plate, or using cookie cutters to create new shapes can be a great way to spark your child’s interest in the food and an opportunity for fresh conversation at the family table.

Nutrient-boosting ideas

When it comes to optimal growth and development, filling nutrient gaps is an important factor. Even children with the best of diets and diverse palates can enjoy including new ways of incorporating fruits, veggies, and other nutrients into their diet. For children with more narrow palates, these ideas can be great ways to introduce flavors or nutrients using new delivery methods:

  • Smoothies:
  • Incorporate a high-quality children’s nutrition powder into a fruit and veggies smoothie. Try blending water, low-fat cow’s milk, or a fortified dairy alternative as a base, plus ½ frozen banana, ½ cup frozen berries, a handful of spinach, ¼ avocado, and a serving of children’s nutrition powder.
  • Fruit and veggie muffins:
  • Get your child involved! Preshred or chop fruits and veggies but have your child empty the ingredients into a mixing bowl while you talk about the health attributes of each ingredient and how delicious the muffins will taste.
  • If you’re new to the kitchen yourself, don’t be intimidated; there are plenty of recipes out there on the Internet that are great for even newly chef-hatted parents. Look for whole wheat or gluten-free flour-based recipes with ingredients like grated carrots, steamed broccoli, shredded zucchini, and mashed banana to cook up colorful, nutrient-dense and fiber-rich treats for your family.
  • Chews or gummies:
  • Offer age-appropriate multivitamin chews or gummies by incorporating these nutrient gap-filling tools as a treat or a part of your child’s daily routine. You can buy premade or experiment with making your own!
  • Liquid or powdered vitamins:
  • Standalone vitamins, like vitamin D3, can be added to foods like yogurt, applesauce, milk, or oatmeal for an added boost of commonly fortified vitamins.

References

  1. Fulgoni VL et al. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? J Nutr. 2011;141(10):1847-1854.
  2. US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA national nutrient database for standard reference, legacy. Current version: April 2018. Internet: http://www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata
  3. Division of responsibility in feeding. Ellyn Satter Institute. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Whitney Crouch, RDN, CLT Whitney Crouch is a Registered Dietitian who received her undergraduate degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of California, Davis. She has over 10 years of experience across multiple areas of dietetics, specializing in integrative and functional nutrition and food sensitivities. When she’s not creating educational programs or writing about nutrition, she’s spending time with her husband and young son. She’s often found running around the bay near her home with the family’s dog or in the kitchen cooking up new ideas to help her picky eater expand his palate. Whitney Crouch is a paid consultant and guest writer for Metagenics.

Whitney Crouch is a paid consultant and guest writer for Metagenics.

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