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Column originally published Sep 27, 2016

Are Vitamins Necessary For Children?

Question: I am wondering what kind of vitamin or supplement that I should give my children. They are three and five years old. Like many children, they are picky eaters. I am a busy mother, and my husband works long hours. When we get busy, we don’t have time to cook. More often than not, we have processed food at mealtime: chicken nuggets and frozen pizzas in oven, or microwave dinners. I know it is not the best, but at least they don’t go to bed hungry. I think I should give them some vitamins just in case, but I am totally confused by the many brands and combinations in the pharmacy. Do you have any suggestion?


I am not surprised that you are confused. Many vitamins and supplements are regarded as food products; there is less regulation and quality control compared with medications.

As modern parents, you live a busy life full of appointments and responsibilities. Many parents want their children to achieve, and enrol them in multiple activities: hockey, soccer, tennis, swimming, dance, gymnastics, arts, etc. They have to rush from one activity to another. Some children get exhausted at the end of the day, not to mention their parents.

I am not saying that keeping children busy is a bad thing. It is far better than sitting at home and watching YouTube or playing videogames for hours. However, there is always a balance in life. Being too busy will rob you and your children the chance to wind down and do other things.

Many parents have forgotten about the joy of cooking. One can blame that many schools have cancelled home economics classes. Food industry has taken advantage of our busy lives and produced a wide array of ready-to-eat products that consumers can heat up or microwave, and in minutes, the meal is ready. They make them smell and taste good.

The trouble is: most of these are not healthy. If you look at the ingredients on the box, you will see a long list of names that you can’t decipher. There is too much salt and sugar: these make the food taste good.

So often, people talk about how expensive it is to eat healthy. However, if you think about it, a good portion of the cost of these processed food goes to processing, marketing, and their expensive CEOs.

My advice for you is to go back to basics: make your own meals. If you haven’t learned that when you were growing up, don’t be shy, ask your parents or friends. Some community colleges may have cooking classes. Many supermarkets have dietitians that can give you advice. You can also experiment with recipes in cookbooks and magazines.

You can block off part of the weekend for family cooking. Get your children involved in food preparation at an early age, they may be more interested to eat the food if they have helped to prepare them. Make a larger portion than one meal, put the extra in containers and freeze them. Do this gradually and you will even enjoy it.

It is very important for your children to eat fruits and vegetables. You can incorporate vegetables into dishes or make stir fry. Cut up fruits and vegetables can be eaten as snacks instead of junk food. You can also blend them into smoothies and drinks.

The only vitamin that children may need is vitamin D. It is because we live too far north and don’t get enough sun exposure. In general, 400 to 800 units of vitamin D will be enough. With healthy eating and physical activities, other vitamins and supplements are not really beneficial.