It’s no secret that kids need their vitamins and minerals. But it can be hard for a parent to know exactly which nutrients their child needs for optimal growth and development. While healthy meals are the best source of necessary micronutrients, too often kids don’t get what they need from food alone. Filling in the gaps with the following supplements can help your child easily meet their nutritional requirements.

children playing tug war park

Supplements can ensure kids get the nutrients needed to support healthy development.

Does my child need supplements?

In a perfect world, children would get all the nutrients they need from a diet filled with fresh, wholesome foods. Yet, hectic family schedules and reliance on ultra-processed food can leave kids overfed and under-nourished. Not only do these nutritional deficiencies undermine a child’s healthy development, but they can also increase the risk of a variety of health conditions as they grow into adulthood. Does your child need supplements? They might if:

  • They aren’t eating regular well-balanced meals made from fresh, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, high-quality protein, dairy products, and whole grains
  • Their diet is primarily based on fast food, convenience food, or ultra-processed snack food (1)
  • They drink a lot of sugary beverages (2)
  • They are picky eaters (3)
  • They eat a vegetarian or vegan diet (4)(5)

Did you know?
A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that children with diets high in added sugars had lower dietary intakes of several micronutrients, especially vitamin A, C, and E, as well as magnesium. (6)

plastic jar supplement facts

Check your child’s multivitamin/mineral label to make sure it contains the minimum RDA of the essential nutrients.

The 6 best supplements for children

A daily multivitamin/mineral supplement can help parents make sure their children are getting at least the basic nutrients they need. Check the supplement facts label on the bottle for the following essential vitamins and minerals.

1. Calcium

Calcium is critical for the development of strong bones and teeth. Yet many kids don’t get adequate amounts. According to a large survey by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, only about 12 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys, ages 9 to 13, get the recommended amount of calcium daily. (7)

2. Iron

Iron is essential to the production of red blood cells and for building muscles. It is also necessary for physical growth, neurological development, and the synthesis of some hormones. (8)

An iron deficiency can be quite common in both infants and teens, and especially among girls once they begin to menstruate. Iron deficiency is also responsible for about half of all childhood cases of anemia. (9)

3. Magnesium

Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions throughout the body. It helps to regulate muscle and nerve function, blood sugar, and blood pressure. (10) Magnesium may also be just as important as calcium for a child’s bone health.

In one study of 63 children, researchers found that the amount of magnesium that was consumed and absorbed wa(s directly linked to how much bone the children had. (11) Other studies suggest that supplementing with magnesium reduces hyperactivity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by helping to calm neuronal excitability. This, in turn, may help with learning and memory. (12)

mother giving her daughter supplement in the kitchen

A daily multivitamin supplement is a good way to ensure your children are getting the basic nutrients they need.

4. Omega-3s

Unless your child eats fatty fish like salmon regularly, they may need to supplement with an omega-3 fatty acid. These healthy fats are vital for brain development. This is because, while 70 percent of a child’s brain is developed at birth, the remaining 30 percent grows during infancy and young childhood. (13)

Studies suggest that the omega-3s in fish—especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—can improve brain function and mood. (14) Other research suggests that adequate blood levels of omega-3s may promote better sleep, reduce the risk of developing asthma, and improve attention, learning, and impulse control in kids with ADHD. (15)(16)(17)

5. Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your child’s body absorb calcium, improves immunity, and plays an important role in healthy brain development. (18) Despite its importance to good health, many children aren’t getting enough of this critical nutrient.

Kids living in northern climates or whose parents slather on the sunscreen are often deficient. And infants who are exclusively breastfed can get short-changed because breastmilk is typically low in vitamin D. (19) Low levels can stunt growth and, in extreme cases, increase the risk of rickets. (20) While the recommended dose is 400 IU of vitamin D3 daily, many doctors and researchers believe that higher amounts are needed. Work with your pediatrician for an appropriate dose depending on your child’s age and health status.

6. Zinc

This important mineral plays a key role in cell growth and differentiation, as well as metabolism. It’s also crucial for a strong immune system. (21) But perhaps zinc’s most important benefit is its ability to foster healthy growth. A review of 36 studies found that supplementing with zinc daily improved a child’s ability to grow taller compared to children who didn’t supplement. (22) Just be aware that high doses (more than 20 mg daily) may, over time, cause a copper deficiency. (23)(24)

Supplements for special situations

Making sure your child gets the necessary vitamins and minerals can give them the nutritional edge they need for optimal health. But sometimes kids need more than just the basics. Here are three common problems that often affect children, along with supplements that may help parents manage each scenario.

Chamomile for anxiety

From jam-packed schedules to mountains of homework, kids today are under an increasing amount of stress that can leave them feeling anxious. According to one survey in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, two million American children are currently dealing with a diagnosis of anxiety. The study authors estimate that another 20 percent of all children may have undiagnosed or untreated anxiety that can lead to school problems and behavioral issues. (25)

cup of chamomile tea with chamomile flower next to it

Chamomile tea is a great antidote to the stress that children grapple with daily.

Along with employing stress-relieving remedies like meditation, research shows that chamomile is a safe and effective way to balance cortisol levels and reduce the symptoms of anxiety. (26) Available as a tea, tincture, or chewable supplement, chamomile may help ease your child’s anxiety so they can better cope with the world around them.

Probiotics for digestive problems

Tummy troubles are a common issue for many children. Whether it’s colic, upset stomach, constipation, or a bout with diarrhea, everyday digestive problems may be helped with the addition of a probiotic supplement. 

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill report that formula containing one specific probiotic, Lactobacillus reuteri, can reduce the crying time in colicky babies. (27) Two other probiotic strains—Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii—have been found to soothe acute gastroenteritis, more commonly called the “stomach flu.” These strains are also effective against antibiotic-associated diarrhea. (28) Probiotics are available as drops for infants and in chewable or gummy form for older kids. Check the label for the strains that fit your child’s digestive needs. 

Melatonin for sleep 

Bedtimes can be a battle for many parents. Poor sleep, or the inability to fall asleep easily, affects an estimated 75 percent of school-aged children. (29) And that can negatively impact both mood and school performance. Several clinical trials have found that supplementing with 5 mg of melatonin can help children fall asleep faster and sleep longer than a placebo. (30)(31)(32

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Supplementation can help reset a child’s internal clock and improve the quantity and quality of sleep. While there aren’t any studies on the safety of long-term use, the occasional use of melatonin appears to be safe in children over the age of five. (33)(34)

Did you know?
Although chewable and gummy-based supplements are kid-friendly, they can contain undesirable additions including added sugars, sugar alcohols, and artificial colors. (35)

The bottom line

Supplements can help ensure that a child gets all of the nutrients they need for good health and proper development—especially if they eat a less than ideal diet. Your pediatrician can help you dial in the appropriate dose for your child’s age, weight, and stage. When choosing a supplement, it’s also smart to look for high-quality brands specifically designed for kids.

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