Oh, how we wring our hands over our children’s eating habits. They turn up those little noses to broccoli and barely touch dinner, while consuming empty calories any chance they get. The conventional wisdom has been to compensate for this less-than-ideal diet with nutritional supplements. But a recent study by the Environmental Working Group suggests that because of fortified foods (like breakfast cereals and snack bars), we may actually be over-supplementing our children, who are more vulnerable than adults to higher-than-recommended levels of vitamin A, zinc and niacin. Here are some tips for supplementing—smartly and safely.
Skip the cereal—those typical “kid cereals” with the cute cartoon characters on them often have been heavily fortified with vitamins and minerals, and if your kid has more than the serving size at breakfast every day, he or she could be consuming harmfully high levels of vitamin A (which can negatively affect developing bones).
Instead, offer your child a high quality kid’s multivitamin to make sure all nutritional bases are covered, and then serve a more “natural” breakfast, like old-fashioned oats with nuts and fruit, organic granola or eggs and toast.
Carrot lover caution—If your child can’t get enough of foods rich in beta-carotene, like carrots, sweet potato, greens and cantaloupe, you might want to stay away from multivitamins (which usually have 100% of a child’s recommended daily allowance for this nutrient). You can then selectively supplement the nutrients your child may not be getting enough of—offering calcium, probiotics and immune support separately as needed.
Shake shakedown—A smoothie or nutritional shake makes a tasty and healthy afternoon snack—but if your child is also consuming cereal and supplements, she could be looking at 2-3 times her recommended level of vitamins and minerals. Safer alternative: take out your blender and combine fresh fruit and milk for a kid-friendly beverage that will keep her satisfied till dinnertime.