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Choosing a Multivitamin For Kids: Tips to Help Parents Make a Decision

Disclaimer: This contains no medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I may earn a small commission on qualified purchases at no extra cost to you. Full disclaimer here.

Maybe you’ve seen ads or talked with other parents and wonder if your child needs a multivitamin. And then. You look at the vitamins available for sale and feel a bit overwhelmed.

There are countless multivitamin options for kids! As I’ll discuss below, most children shouldn’t need a multivitamin, but there are some that can benefit. So, if you already know that your child needs a multivitamin and are wondering how to choose, this article is for you. It’s one system that helps narrow down the endless choices. 

Here is one step-by-step process of choosing a multivitamin.

First, aside from vitamin D, most kids shouldn’t need a multivitamin. A well-balanced diet should be enough to provide all the nutrition and calories they need. This is the ideal. However, the ideal isn’t always easy. Some kids can be very selective about what they eat. Sometimes a vitamin is necessary. 

Step 1: Decide if a vitamin is even necessary at all.

The obvious first step is figuring out if any vitamin is needed. Most kids don’t need one, with the exception of vitamin d (more information here). Marketing is powerful and a quick scroll through social media can have anyone thinking that vitamin supplements are essential.

The best way to decide whether a vitamin is necessary is to talk to your child’s pediatrician.

You can also look at your child’s diet. If they are missing entire food groups (like all fruits or vegetables) and don’t eat any fortified foods (like specific cereals or packaged pasta, for example), then a multivitamin may be a reasonable idea. 

For a common example, I’m thinking of a kid who eats minimal fruits and vegetables. After discussion with their pediatrician, parents decide to give their child a multivitamin most days. A specific brand wasn’t recommended.

This takes us to step 2.

Step 2: Evaluate your own non-negotiables when choosing a vitamin.

This is a step that quickly eliminates many options. List the absolutely nonnegotiable qualities you need in a multivitamin.

Here’s one thing I think most families look for in a kid’s multivitamin: a vitamin their child will take willingly. Most parents don’t want to force something unsavory if they don’t have to. So, this could mean choosing a chewable vitamin. (Most kids’ multivitamins are flavored and chewable for this reason). 

Aside from that, some families try to limit food dyes (common in kids multivitamins). Many families avoid certain animal products, so then they may choose vitamins without gelatin (also common). 

Others need to consider specific food intolerances, like gluten or dairy. 

However you look at it, deciding the few non-negotiables makes for quick elimination when staring at lists of different multivitamin brands. 

In our example, let’s say this family prefers to avoid both artificial food coloring and gelatin. 

The dentist has also told them to limit sticky foods, so they’re thinking to choose a non-gummy vitamin, but may be willing to consider if every other requirement is met. This isn’t non-negotiable, but may be a tie-breaker they’ll consider.

Step 3: Decide whether iron is needed. 

Yes, there are long lists of ingredients on bottle labels. Why do I focus on iron? First, because iron supplementation really should be discussed with a child’s pediatrician. Most kids at around age 1 are screened for anemia, and this can help influence the decision. Iron supplements are a common recommendation for some types of anemia. 

Many people equate iron to eating meat, so this recommendation may be more common in kids with limited meat intake. However, toddlers and kids can be perfectly healthy even without meat. A vegetarian diet does not automatically mean a child needs iron vitamins. 

And, importantly, too much iron can be deadly. The risk of overdose is a very real and serious risk. Like all medications and supplements, iron-containing vitamins need to be stored away from children. (See this for more detailed tips). 

So, this step is simply to decide yes or no to iron-containing multivitamin. This easily narrows down a large portion of vitamins marketed to kids. 

In this example, we’ll say the child had a normal anemia screening. The family knows they get plenty of iron on their diet, some of it from fortified cereals. 

Step 4: Look at Vitamin D

As discussed at length here, many kids in North America need this. With that in mind,  parents might decide to include vitamin D in their child’s multivitamin. 400 – 600 IU vitamin D per serving is usually reasonable. If your child is one of the few who doesn’t need it, then skip this step. Again, this is best discussed in an individual conversation with your child’s doctor. 

Step 5: Look at other ingredients on the nutrition label.

With any questions, ask your pediatrician or nutrition expert. Does your child really need 250% recommended daily allowance of vitamin A? (For one example).

Skim the percentages. I always discourage overthinking. That being said, it’s tricky when looking at vitamin labels! However, if you’ve done the first step of deciding a vitamin is necessary, then you have an idea of what your child is missing in their usual diet. 

This is why it’s hard to make recommendations that apply to all kids. It’s why I cringe when I see claims that a specific vitamin is the best one for all kids. 

However, let’s continue with our example that I think is pretty common. A kid who has limited fruit and vegetable intake, but is otherwise pretty healthy. They eat a good variety of other foods, including iron-rich foods, even though they’re vegetarian.

This could mean that they’d want reasonable amounts of the vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables, since that’s the food the child isn’t getting naturally. They may be thinking of vitamin C and potassium, among others.

Common nutrients lacking in some diets

For frame of reference, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 classified the following as nutrients of public health concern. This is because not eating enough of these was linked to adverse health outcomes later in life. Even though fiber is listed, I’m not suggesting a fiber be included in a vitamin for kids.

  • vitamin D
  • calcium
  • potassium
  • fiber

The same guidelines also identified these micronutrients as often being insufficient in typical diets of those over 2 years of age.

  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • folate
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • iron (for certain age groups)
  • choline

This is from a public health standpoint, looking at vitamin deficiencies in the population, not your individual child. However, some might find the list helpful. And, just because a typical diet may not have enough of those micronutrients doesn’t automatically mean a multivitamin supplement is needed. There are easy ways to just adjust diets too! Again, this is the ideal: adjusting a child’s diet to include all necessary nutrients. See below for some ideas. 

However, for the sake of choosing a supplement, let’s say this example family is considering a multivitamin with some of the nutrients listed above. 

Along with vitamin D, little or no iron, dye-free, and gelatin-free, here are a few chewable examples that fit this sample family’s criteria: (affiliate links used)

If a family is okay with food coloring or gelatin, there are many more options. If they want organic ingredients, there may be fewer options. And, if they do need extra iron, many of the above brands also include iron. 

Avoiding a supplement is possible too!

If a family would prefer to avoid a multivitamin, this is usually possible with a few adjustments in the diet. Obviously this doesn’t apply to someone with certain food allergies, intolerances, or persistently selective eating.

Here is my post on including fruits and veggies in more dishes.

Here is why eating fruits and veggies may be important beyond the reasons of vitamins and minerals. Real food really is ideal.

This is for kids who don’t drink milk, on including calcium, protein, and fat in their diets.

Summary: With a few steps, parents can choose a vitamin for their kids.

The process of choosing a multivitamin doesn’t need to be complicated. By simply listing the non-negotiables and then thinking about iron and vitamin D, parents are off to a good start to making the best choice for their family. It’s also a decision that can easily be adjusted as a child’s diet changes. As always, it’s important to keep this and other medication out of reach of babies and children. 

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