Sometimes it feels like a major success when we get our children to eat anything at all! Especially without resorting to bribery.
But are they eating the right foods to support their health and wellbeing? Despite our best intentions, packed lunches often come home unpacked, teens follow fad diets, or kids simply decide something “tastes funny”.
This could lead to a lack of vitamins and minerals in their diet. Find out which ones might be missing and how you can get them back on the menu.
Your child needs calcium
A daily glass of milk is a key part of any child’s diet – packed with calcium, vitamin D and protein, it is ideal for helping to build healthy bones and teeth.
While boys are getting enough calcium, the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey reveals nearly 20 per cent of girls are not.
This could be due to believing myths about diary – such as milk and cheese cause acne – or trying to follow a dairy-free diet without proper advice. Talk to your children about the need for calcium in our diets, but if they really can’t deal with dairy, alternative sources include broccoli, almonds, nuts and seeds, calcium supplements and calcium-enriched soya products.
Your child needs vitamin D
We make most of our vitamin D via the sun’s rays on our skin, but poor British winters and scrupulous sun safety could be causing low vitamin D levels in our children. Some experts even say that everyone in the UK is at risk of a vitamin D deficiency!
We need vitamin D to help absorb calcium properly, support our immune system, and maintain muscle health. Kids who get too little can develop rickets, a soft-bone condition, while adults may be at risk of osteoporosis.
All children up to the age of five can get vitamin D drops from their GP, while older children can take suitable vitamin D supplements. You can also find vitamin D in fortified formulas, oily fish and eggs. Encourage your children to play outside too, but take care of their skin in strong sunshine.
Your child needs vitamin C
Got a fussy eater? You know how tricky it is to get them to eat properly, especially when it comes to fruit and veg. Government figures show only 10 per cent of boys and 7 per cent of girls are hitting their 5-a-day target, which can contribute to low vitamin C levels.
Vitamin C is vital for healthy skin, protecting our immune system and also helps us absorb iron. Brightly coloured fruit and veggies, especially something kids can eat easily like berries or carrot sticks, can encourage them to tuck in. If you need more ideas for fussy eaters, watch our expert video on making the perfect packed lunch.
Your child needs vitamin A
Vitamin A is essential for children; it maintains healthy skin –– plays an important role in supporting their vision and functioning of the immune system. Unfortunately, 13 per cent of UK kids are not getting enough vitamin A.
One reason could be not eating enough fruit and vegetables, as our body converts carotenoids found in yellow, red and orange fruit and veg into vitamin A. Try ‘hiding’ these foods in your kids’ meals by adding grated carrots to chilli con carne, for example, or get them interested in cooking their own food.
Your child needs iron
Many young girls suffer from an iron deficiency; the most recent figures suggest 46 per cent have low iron intakes, putting them at risk of anaemia. Without enough iron, we struggle to transport oxygen around our body, causing tiredness. So your lazy teen may just be lacking in iron!
The best sources of iron are animal products, but if your child is seriously anti-steak, lean lamb or pork meat is also rich in iron. Veggie sources include eggs, pulses, leafy greens and fortified cereals, but give them a glass of orange juice with meals to help absorb plant irons properly.
- Children need calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin A and iron
- These vitamins can come from a healthy diet or through taking additional supplements
The vitamins children need for preschool
Ensuring young kids get the right food can seem like an uphill struggle as the battle-lines are drawn over broccoli and bananas. But what actually makes a healthy diet for your three to five year-olds?
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll need to give your preschooler a balanced diet which contains a mix of lean proteins, wholegrains, fruit, veg and dairy so they get the nutrients they need for a strong immune system.
If they don’t consume the amount, or range of foods needed, the Department of Health says all children aged six months to five years need to be given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.
Not getting enough vit D
Guidelines say kids should be given vitamin D from birth for healthy development, immune function and bones.
The main source of this is from the sun, but this is only effective during the summer months. Vitamin D can be hard to get from food as it’s only found in useful quantities in oily fish, mushrooms and eggs – no surprise that one in five kids suffers from vitamin D deficiency.
A daily supplement of 10 micrograms is recommend by the NHS for those aged 1 to 4 to help prevent poor immunity, weak bones and rickets.
Missing out on A and C
Vitamin A is vital for healthy eyes, skin and immunity, and vitamin C for general health and good skin. You’ll find A in meat, oily fish, eggs, milk and yellow and orange veg, and C in most fruit and veg.
It’s a good idea to have an easily reachable fruit bowl at home to encourage pre-schoolers to help themselves, boosting their chances of getting their five a day, and laying down the foundations for healthy snacking habits (double win!).
Lacking in omega-3
A study on pre-school children with developmental difficulties revealed startling improvements in their concentration when given a 500mg supplement of omega-3 daily. Children who were six months behind in their learning made seven-and-a-half months’ progress in the five months they took the supplements – an epic catch-up by anyone’s standards.
You’ll find omega-3 naturally in oily fish, flaxseed, rapeseed and some nut oils.
Essential for bone strength and healthy teeth, you’ll find calcium in dairy, nuts, seeds and green leafy veg.
Smoothies are a really easy and yummy way to add this to their diet and are a smart way to support levels of friendly gut bacteria, which can promote normal digestion in children .
The best of the rest
Nearly half of children are lacking in selenium, which is important for all-round health – brown rice, mushrooms, broccoli and Brazil nuts all contain it (though don’t give whole nuts to under-fives; try a nut butter instead).
Magnesium supports bone health and muscle function; get this from potatoes, beans, wholegrains, green leafy veg, apricots, peas, soya and peanut butter.
Iron is needed for immunity and cognition, and you’ll find it in red meat, greens, beans and pulses.
Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron from plant sources, so having a drink containing vitamin C with an iron-rich meal will boost the benefit – try a fruit juice with a bowl of iron-fortified cereal.
One in 10 young children are found to have low levels of zinc, which is important for growth and a healthy immune system. The best sources are red meat, fish, dairy and wholegrain bread.
Handpicked article: Things you only know if you’re the mum of a toddler
Last updated: 11 February 2021
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.
What Parents Know and Want to Learn About Healthy Eating and Body Image in Preschool Children: a Triangulated Qualitative Study with Parents and Early Childhood Professionals, Laura M. Hart, Stephanie R. Damiano, Chelsea Cornell, and Susan J. Paxton
Health Problems of Infants and Preschool Children: Report of a Study, Helen M. Wallace, Evelyn Hartman, Vernon Weckwerth, and Eunice Davis
The Essential Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and Herbal Supplements, Dr Sarah Brewer
Zinc Treatment to Under-five Children: Applications to Improve Child Survival and Reduce Burden of Disease, Charles P. Larson, S.K. Roy, Azharul Islam Khan, Ahmed Shafiqur Rahman, and Firdausi Qadri