5 Nutrients Your Child May Lack
And What to Do About It
Even kids who clean their plates may not get all the nutrients they need. They’re usually not so nutrient deficient that they have bowed legs from rickets caused by vitamin D deficiency, bleeding gums caused by a lack of vitamin C, or poor vision or night blindness that are a consequence of a lack of vitamin A—all deficiency diseases that were common in American children less than a century ago.
However, “Even if a child doesn’t have an outright deficiency disease, a low intake of a vitamin or mineral can have health consequences,” explains Angela Lemond, RD, CSP, LD, a Plano, Texas-based dietitian in private practice and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Here are five nutrients that your child might be lacking and how to change that:
- Iron: Nearly 15% of infants and toddlers ages 6 months to 5 years don’t get enough of this blood-building mineral. This figure jumps to nearly 20% for toddlers between 12 and 17 months old, according to a 2010 Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of iron deficiency range from slow mental and social development to weakness, fatigue, and an increased susceptibility to infection.
“Iron-deficiency anemia occurs at a time when infants are transitioning from breast milk or formula to solids,” Lemond says. “Toddlers over the age of 1 year should drink no more than 24 ounces of milk daily and focus on eating more solid foods. In addition, preteen girls starting at around age 12 require more iron to make up for monthly blood loss.”
Iron-rich foods include red meat (especially beef) and eggs (especially egg yolks) as well as cooked dried beans, dried fruits such as raisins, and iron-fortified cereals. Foods rich in vitamin C can boost the absorption of iron from plant-based sources such as cereals and beans. To get that benefit, serve kids a sliced fresh orange with a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or add chopped tomatoes as a topping on a bean burrito or salad for lunch or dinner.
- Vitamin C: Six percent of Americans ages 6 and older don’t get enough of this woundhealing vitamin, according to the CDC. Signs of deficiency include bleeding gums, easy bruising, nosebleeds, and longer-thannormal wound healing.
“Many children don’t eat vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables,” Lemond says. Citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit; tomatoes and tomato juice; and potatoes are potent sources of vitamin C. Other good sources include vegetables such as bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts as well as kiwifruit, strawberries, and cantaloupe.
Heat can destroy vitamin C, so serve fruits and vegetables raw or vegetables steamed or microwaved. Kids often prefer crunchy-textured vegetables anyway.
- Vitamin B6: More than 10% of the country’s population of children age 1 and older doesn’t get enough of this nutrient necessary for turning food into energy, building blood cells, and helping nerves function, according to the CDC. Subtle signs of not eating enough include irritability and cracks at the corners of the mouth.
“Vitamin B6 is found in many foods, such as beef, poultry, and fortified cereals,” Lemond says. “Other good sources are peanuts and other nuts. Children with a nut allergy who can’t eat nuts are at greater risk for a deficiency.”
Two tablespoons of peanut butter, or the amount typically used to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a 1-ounce bag of snack peanuts both provide nearly one-quarter of the daily requirement of B6 for 4- to 8-year-olds. Other good sources of vitamin B6 are tuna, potatoes, sunflower seeds, and spinach.
- Vitamin D: Slow bone growth and muscle weakness are two symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. Full-blown rickets, a disease that can lead to bone fractures and deformed legs, is on the rise in children in developed countries where parents are overly vigilant about sunscreen application, according to a study by British researchers published last year in the Journal of Family Health Care. Vitamin D is produced in the skin by ultraviolet light from the sun. The study’s authors recommended 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure daily.
Another way to make sure kids get enough vitamin D is through foods. “It’s important for children to consume three servings of low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, or cheese, daily in order to get enough vitamin D as well as calcium,” Lemond says. “Those who have a milk allergy or are vegetarian or vegan should look for a vitamin D-fortified milk alternative such as soy or rice milk.”
Tuna and eggs as well as vitamin D-fortified orange juice and breakfast cereals such as Total, Wheaties, and Multigrain Cheerios are other kid-friendly sources of vitamin D.
- Dietary fiber: This indigestible part of plants was scarce in the diet of many of the more than 3,000 U.S. infants, toddlers, and preschoolers surveyed in the 2008 Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study.
“Constipation is a common problem that results from not eating enough fiber,” Lemond says. “We’re also seeing more serious gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome starting at an earlier age. The other issue is that high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables provide other nutrients that children frequently lack, like potassium and magnesium.”
In addition to fruits and vegetables, wholegrain breads, cereals, and crackers are other good sources of dietary fiber.
MAKE IT FUN
Dietitian Angela Lemond, RD, CSP, LD, is one mom who lets her school-aged son and daughter play with their food. That is, she sets up a “Pick Your MyPlate Night” once a week.
“We’ll all sit down to dinner and let the kids dish up their dinner plates. Then we’ll look at what’s missing,” Lemond explains. “I have all the foods that make up the USDA’s MyPlate guide on the table—lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy. We make a game out of creating a balanced meal and the kids learn a life skill in the process!”
Children with allergies don’t have to miss out at the holidays. Skeeter Snacks will satisfy safely. It’s a new line of individually wrapped cookies that are free of tree nuts and peanuts, in Chocolate Chunk, Skeeterdoodle, and Golden Oatmeal varieties.
Make sure your kids get all the friendly bacteria they need along with calcium and protein with Lifeway Food’s ProBugs. It’s a kid-friendly version of the company’s organic kefir, filled with beneficial probiotics and available in fun flavors such as Goo-Berry Pie, Orange Creamy Crawler, Strawnana Split, and Sublime Slime Lime.
Make smoothies with humane-certified lactose-free yogurt and kefir from Green Valley Organics and goat milk varieties from Redwood Hill Farm. Just add fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and perhaps a light sweetener. Want it faster? Just pour Green Valley Organics Strawberry Pom Açaí Kefir or one of Redwood Hill Farm’s flavors.
If there’s a picky eater in your brood, get all the help you need to overcome fussiness with Appetite for Life: The Thumbs-Up, No-Yucks Guide to Getting Your Kid to Be a Great Eater by Stacey Antine, MS, RD.
Sprout Organic Toddler Meals, made with all-natural ingredients, make it easy and convenient for your children to eat clean. The one-dish meals in a range of kid-friendly flavors such as Macaroni and Cheese With Butternut Squash provide key nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals.