As children grow, it’s important for them to get enough vitamins and minerals to ensure optimal health.
Most kids get adequate amounts of nutrients from a balanced diet, but under certain circumstances, children may need to supplement with vitamins or minerals.
Nutrient needs for kids are dependent on age, sex, size, growth, and activity level.
According to health experts, young children between the ages of 2 and 8 require 1,000–1,400 calories each day. Those ages 9–13 need 1,400–2,600 calories daily — depending on certain factors, such as activity level (1, 2).
In addition to eating enough calories, a child’s diet should meet the following Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs)
While the above nutrients are some of the most commonly discussed, they aren’t the only ones kids need.
Children require some amount of every vitamin and mineral for proper growth and health, but exact amounts vary by age. Older children and teens need different amounts of nutrients than younger kids to support optimal health.
Do kids have different nutrient needs than adults?
Kids need the same nutrients as adults — but usually require smaller amounts.
Thus, although kids may need smaller amounts of vitamins and minerals compared to adults, they still need to get enough of these nutrients for proper growth and development.
Do kids need vitamin supplements?
In general, kids that eat a healthy, balanced diet don’t need vitamin supplements.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United States Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans don’t recommend supplements over and above the recommended dietary allowances for healthy children older than 1 who eat a balanced diet.
These foods contain all of the necessary nutrients for proper growth and development in children (10).
Overall, kids who eat a balanced diet that includes all food groups don’t usually need vitamin or mineral supplements. Still, the next section covers some exceptions.
Some kids may need supplemental nutrients
Even though most children who eat a healthy diet don’t need vitamins, specific circumstances may warrant supplementation.
Certain vitamin and mineral supplements may be necessary for kids who are at risk of deficiencies, such as those who:
- follow a vegetarian or vegan diet
- have a condition that affects the absorption of or increases the need for nutrients, such as celiac disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- have had a surgery that impacts the intestines or stomach
- are extremely picky eaters and struggle to eat a variety of foods
In particular, kids who eat plant-based diets may be at risk of deficiencies in calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins B12 and D — especially if they eat few or no animal products.
Vegan diets can be particularly dangerous for children if certain nutrients like vitamin B12 — which is found naturally in animal foods — are not replaced through supplements or fortified foods.
Failing to replace these nutrients in children’s diets can lead to serious consequences, such as abnormal growth and developmental delays (15).
However, it’s possible for children on plant-based diets to get adequate nutrition from diet alone if their parents are incorporating enough plant foods that naturally contain or are fortified with certain vitamins and minerals.
Children with celiac or inflammatory bowel diseases may have difficulty absorbing several vitamins and minerals, especially iron, zinc, and vitamin D. This is because these diseases cause damage to the areas of the gut that absorb micronutrients.
On the other hand, kids with cystic fibrosis have trouble absorbing fat and, therefore, may not adequately absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K (12).
In addition, children with cancer and other diseases that cause increased nutrient needs may require certain supplements to prevent disease-related malnutrition.
Finally, some studies have linked picky eating in childhood to low intakes of micronutrients.
One study in 937 kids ages 3–7 found that picky eating was strongly associated with low intakes of iron and zinc. Still, the results indicated that blood levels of these minerals were not significantly different in picky compared to non-picky eaters.
Nevertheless, it’s possible that prolonged picky eating could lead to micronutrient deficiencies over time and may warrant nutritional supplements as a result.