Children’s Nutrition 101 – Food First, then Supplements by Emily Kennedy, MSc, RHN

by | Dec 20, 2016 | Blog, Nutrition | 0 comments

Whether it’s your prenatal multivitamin with folic acid or a protein powder in your morning shake, most parents these days have used nutritional supplements in some form or other. So naturally, they wonder if supplements can help their children stay healthy and maybe even get an edge on the developmental curve. Children have a few heightened nutrient requirements to help their body grow. Specifically, per pound of body weight, children need more iron, calcium and fat than adults.

First and foremost, help your children obtain those nutrients from foods by offering them a variety of quality meats, vegetables, seeds, nuts, beans, fish, oils, whole grains and fruits. Quality red meats including organic beef and liver, chicken thighs, and clams or oysters are the highest sources of heme iron (most bio-available) while seeds, nuts, leafy green vegetables and dried fruits are good source of non-heme iron. Milk is a well-marketed, albeit highly allergenic, source of calcium. Fortunately almond, hemp and soy milks often provide the same amount of calcium while adding mono- and polyunsaturated essential fats to you child’s diet. Fat, in particularly long-chain polyunsaturated essential fats, contributes long-lasting energy and phospholipids for the cellular membranes of the eyes and brain. Best sources of good fats for your child include nuts (especially walnuts), seeds (especially pumpkin and sacha inchi seeds), nut and seed butters, olive and flaxseed oil, avocado, coconut, and, of course, cold-water fish.

But my kids are picky, you say. Well, that’s where supplements come in. For the child who consistently does not eat many foods in certain a food group, a multivitamin and mineral supplement is essential while you continue to offer the neglected foods. Not all multis are created equal. Some provide iron and other nutrients like choline, inositol or bioflavonoids while others stick to the basic A, Bs, and C vitamins. Base your choice on the foods your child commonly avoids. For example, choose a product with iron in it if quality meat (processed meat doesn’t count!) is lacking. Then, try to get a product that is sourced from whole foods without added sucrose, fructose, artificial colours or binders in it.

In addition to a high-quality multivitamin, here are a few single nutrient supplements I commonly recommend based on the child’s diet, lifestyle and any specific health needs:

Vitamin D. By now, we’ve all heard about the plethora of benefits of the “sunshine vitamin”. Particularly in the winter months, continue the practice of giving your child vitamin D drops, just like when they were infants. At least 400 IU per day (to a maximum of 1,000 IU under practitioner supervision) is safe and recommended due to lack of sun exposure and limited food sources.

Omega-3. If you can’t get the salmon, tuna, edamame, hemp or flax seeds, or even omega-3 eggs into your child, consider an omega-3 supplement. They come in lots of candy-like forms but opt for one that tastes less treat-like to minimize the added colours and flavourings. Some children even like the adult gelatin-encapsulated fish oils so you may be able to avoid the kiddy marketing tricks. Please consult a nutrition practitioner for the appropriate dose of omega-3s for your child. It’s not one size fits all.

Probiotics. Studies show that children who take probiotics missed less school due to illness so there’s merit in boosting the healthy bacteria in your child’s gut, especially if kefir and other natural fermented foods aren’t frequently enjoyed. Probiotics in combination with digestive enzymes may also help with digestive problems and food allergies that are common in children. If such specific concerns exist, again please consult a registered nutrition practitioner who can recommend specific dosing schedules and strains to are appropriate to your child’s specific needs.

Emily Kennedy, MSc, RHN of Markham Integrative Medicine can assist the whole family as nutrition consultant.  An appointment can be scheduled with Emily by calling (905)294-2335, or sending an email to

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