Vitamins & Minerals growing bodies need
Kids require a nutritious and varied diet to support the amazing level of growth and development that happens during childhood. For many parents, making sure kids receive all the nutrition they need through food can be a confusing and daunting task. While trying to make sense of the wealth of information available, as parents we may also be faced with a picky toddler or a distracted pre‐schooler who is too busy playing to want to sit down and eat a well‐balanced meal. To help make meal planning easier, here is a breakdown of some (but not all!) of the more important vitamins and minerals growing bodies need:
- Calcium: the most abundant mineral found in the body. Calcium is needed to build strong bones and teeth. It's also important for a healthy nervous system, muscles, blood vessels and the proper release of hormones and enzymes.1 Kids 1‐3 years old require 500mg calcium intake per day, those between 4 and 8 years old require 700mg and kids between 9 and 11 years old require 1000mg per day. Adolescents between 12 and 18 years old require even higher amounts of calcium, at least 1300mg per day. Getting enough calcium every day is often easy to achieve as one cup of milk or a 200g tub of yoghurt will provide around 300mg of calcium.2
- Iron: an important mineral necessary for the proper function of red blood cells and oxygen transportation in the body. A small amount of iron is stored by the body for future use when our intake from food is low. Kids between the ages of 1‐3 generally require 7mg of iron daily, kids aged 4‐8 years 10mg of iron daily and older kids between 9 and 13 years old 8mg daily.3
- Zinc: a trace mineral essential for growth, a healthy immune system and healthy skin and hair. Severe zinc deficiencies are rare in Australia, although milder cases could be missed, as the symptoms are not always obvious. It is recommended that children between 7 months and 3 years old get 3mg a day, 4‐8 year olds 5mg a day and kids between 9 and 13 years 8mg a day 4
- Iodine: a trace mineral that plays an important role in making thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones control growth and development throughout the body, including the brain. We only require a very small amount (about 1 teaspoon over the course of a lifetime) in order to be healthy. It’s recommended that younger kids between 1 and 8 years old get 90mcg of iodine daily, and older children between 9 and 13 years get 120mcg.5
- Vitamin A: a fat soluble vitamin that is involved in immunity and vision and also supports normal cell growth. It is essential for the normal formation of the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs. Kids between the ages of 1 and 3 years are recommended to have 300mcg daily, kids 4‐8 years old 400mcg and those between 9 and 13 years 600mcg daily6
- B Vitamins: a group of eight different vitamins important for energy production and making red blood cells. These are easily destroyed by cooking or processing food and the body is unable to store most of them (except vitamin B12 and folic acid, which are stored in the liver).7 So ensuring our kids have an adequate intake can be a challenge!
- Vitamin D: a fat soluble vitamin that regulates mineral levels, such as those of calcium, in the body. For this reason, vitamin D is important for bone health, especially for our kid's developing bones! It is found in some foods, but 80‐90% of vitamin D the body gets is obtained through exposure to sunlight. The current recommended daily intake of vitamin D for people aged 1‐ 70 years is 600IU.8
Nutritious foods for growing bodies
With so much to think about, we often find ourselves asking "What foods should I be giving my family?" In an ideal world, a varied diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and wholegrain cereal products will generally provide everything our children need to be healthy. But in reality, at some point most of us will worry that our child is not taking in enough nutrients, or eating enough of the "right" foods to grow and develop into a healthy young adult. For those parents, the following is a helpful guide to some of the foods which should be included to ensure a healthy diet for kids.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are amazing sources of vitamins, minerals and other nutritional goodies needed for healthy, growing bodies. The colours of fruits and vegetables are a small clue as to what nutrients they contain. By eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables you are guaranteed a diverse amount of valuable vitamins and minerals. You could make a berry smoothie for your child’s breakfast, add a fruit salad to their lunchbox, add leftover sweet potato or pumpkin to sandwiches and add spinach or grated carrot to pasta sauce. For the little fussy ones, make fruit and vegetables fun by arranging them in shapes to boost their appeal.
Milk is a very important source of nutrition for kids as it provides a number of vitamins and minerals. Perhaps the most significant of these is calcium, which is needed for healthy bones and teeth. In fact, more than 99% of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones and teeth.1 Milk also contains vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B12 and zinc.9 Offering children plenty of dairy products, including plain milk, yoghurt and cheese is a great way to help kids reach their recommended daily intake. We like to blend yoghurt and milk with fruit for a delicious smoothie!
Eggs are also a great food choice for kids. They pack a nutritional punch, containing protein, vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron.9 They are a quick and easy meal option when you're pressed for time and the kids are hungry. Try scrambled eggs on toast, an omelette filled with grated cheese and vegetables, or add hard boiled eggs to their school lunchboxes.
Whole grains (such as whole wheat couscous, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, wild rice and millet) provide carbohydrates for energy and are also rich in fibre, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. In particular, whole grain breads and cereals contain vitamins B1, B2 and B6, folic acid and zinc.9 We avoid processed grains where possible by swapping foods such as white bread, white rice and pasta for brown or whole grain breads, brown or wild rice and wholemeal or vegetable pasta.
Yeast extracts, such as Vegemite, are a tasty (and healthy) addition to your children's diet. We use it on toast, with sandwiches, crumpets and even in spaghetti bolognese! Yeast extracts provide extra vitamin B1 and B2 which help the body break down food and release energy giving your kids extra get up and go! 9
Protein in the form of meat such as chicken, fish, beef or pork provides many vital nutrients for little growing bodies. Meat is one of the largest sources of dietary iron and also contains vitamin B3, B6 and B12, which are necessary for growth. Zinc can also be found in meat, which helps to promote a healthy immune system.9 We choose lean meats such as chicken breast, lean beef mince and trim the fat from cuts such as steak or chops as much as possible.
Vitamin D is found in many foods, such as fish, eggs, cod liver oil and fortified products such as vitamin D enriched milk. Sunlight is also a major contributor to the daily production of vitamin D in the body. Encourage your kids to get at least ten minutes of sunshine each day through outdoor play, a visit to your local park, by going for a walk around the neighbourhood or a swim in the pool.
Iodine is found in dairy products, seafood, eggs, kelp, vegetables grown in iodine rich soil, iodised salt and breads made with iodised salt. Since October 2009, due to concerns about low average dietary intakes of iodine, iodised salt has now replaced non‐iodised salt in the baking of all bread sold in Australia (except for organic bread).5
Supplements to keep kids active
Despite our best efforts to feed our kids healthy foods, sometimes it can feel like we need a little help especially if our little Mr and Miss have food intolerances or simply (but adamantly) dislike a particular food. This is where supplements can support your efforts and provide a top up to a child's balanced diet. A kid's multivitamin will make sure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy, even when they have their own ideas about what they will and won't eat. But kids multivitamins are not only for fussy eaters, they can also be given when kids need a little boost, such as during exam time or when doing a lot of sports.