A healthy balanced diet will provide our little ones with the nutritional goodies they need to grow big and strong. Vitamins and minerals are essential for the healthy functioning of growing bodies and to ensure your child receives their recommended intake, it’s important to provide them with a wide variety of fresh foods.
Unfortunately, this is also a time when your offspring become more independent and getting them to eat well may feel like an uphill battle in your household! To help you through this often challenging stage, we’ve created a simple list of five key vitamins and minerals that young kids need to have the best start to a healthy life and how to get these from their food. Because kids do go through periods of fussy eating, this may also be a good time to start them on a kids’ multivitamin to fill any nutritional gaps.
- Calcium – Calcium helps build strong healthy bones and teeth, and kids have high requirements as their skeletal tissue is constantly growing. Unfortunately 70% of children are not receiving their recommended dietary intake of calcium,1 which is concerning considering calcium is one nutrient that growing bodies can’t afford to miss. When kids get enough calcium during their childhood and teen years, it ensures they have the strongest bones possible for later in life. To help your child reach their recommended daily intake of calcium (500mg for kids 1‐3 years, 700 mg for kids 4‐8 years and 1000‐1300 for kids 9‐13 years), encourage several serves of dairy products such as a tub of yogurt, an afternoon fruit smoothie using one cup of milk (or calcium fortified soy, almond or oat milk), or add cheese to sandwiches. Other sources of calcium include green leafy vegies such as spinach and broccoli,1 which if necessary, could be hidden in pasta sauces or almond butter.
- Iron – Adequate iron is so important for the period of rapid growth and development in children and not getting enough may result in fatigue, irritability and poor mental performance. Kids need around 10mg of iron each day so to ensure your child gets enough, encourage consumption of meat, fish and poultry, add a snack pack of dried fruits to their lunchbox and add lentils to pasta sauce.2
- B vitamins – Active little bodies need lots of energy and B vitamins are needed to help release this energy from the food we eat. B’s are found in foods like whole grains, green leafy vegies, raw nuts and seeds, legumes, eggs, meat and poultry.3 You could make boiled egg and wholemeal soldiers for breakfast, healthy burritos with kidney beans for dinner or cram some green leafy goodness into soup.
- Vitamin C – Just as kids’ bones and brains are developing so are their immune systems. It may seem that your child has an endless cold or flu, that they are always sick. This is because they haven’t yet built up their immune defences to the hundreds of viruses going around. Vitamin C may help strengthen little immune systems by increasing the production and function of white blood cells. Vitamin C is found in many fruits and a variety of vegetables including strawberries, broccoli, papaya, red capsicum and citrus fruits.4 You could make a fresh fruit salad for dessert or add broccoli to a tuna pasta bake to help your child reach their recommended daily intake.
- Iodine – Adequate iodine in childhood is important for normal metabolism, growth and development, as well as cognitive function and learning ability, but research shows that one in three kids are not getting enough. Iodine is rich in seaweed5 and as so many kids love sushi (usually rolled in seaweed), you could add a few homemade rolls to their lunchbox or go out for a sushi meal as a treat rather than an unhealthy alternative. Seafood is another good source,3 so you could crumb your own fish sticks or make salmon or tuna fishcakes.