Have a picky eater on your hands? As a mom and pediatric dietitian, I know how concerning it can be when you notice your child start to become more selective in the foods they eat.
This is why I’ve created the best multivitamin for picky eaters guide to help you make the best choice for your child and feel confident knowing that they are meeting their nutrient needs.
I remember being a new mom and so excited about how adventurous and accepting of any and all foods my baby was — only to be very humbled as we entered the toddler phase and suddenly so many of her favorite foods she no longer seemed interested in anymore.
Luckily, as a pediatric dietitian, I knew that this was very common for toddlers, but it still didn’t make it any less frustrating. Picky eating in young children is something that can range from normal toddler behavior to something more severe and in need of intervention. Oftentimes parents will report that their child was an amazing and adventurous eater as an infant but slowly started to become pickier as they entered toddlerhood.
This is really normal development for toddlers who often are too busy exploring the world around them to want to eat, and who want more independence and autonomy in their choices, including what they eat.
This picky or fussy toddler phase usually works itself out over time as long as parents continue to offer a wide variety of new foods and avoid food pressure. However, there are cases where over time children begin to refuse more and more foods, have big emotional reactions to trying new foods, or are unwilling to touch or try new foods.
For some, these fussy and picky food preferences can begin as infants, which may be a sign of an underlying feeding issue that should be addressed by a feeding therapist. For others, children may begin to slowly refine their list of accepted foods to a more limited list that may drop below 20 foods. At this point, we would consider the child to have a severe form of picky eating that most likely is impacting their nutritional needs and growth, and should ideally be addressed with the help of a qualified feeding therapist.
What Is Picky Eating?
Picky eating is usually classified within a spectrum of feeding difficulties as an unwillingness to eat familiar foods or to try new foods, strong food preferences, and big emotional reactions to new foods.
Picky eating often begins in early childhood but can continue all the way into adulthood if not addressed. While some picky eating behaviors and food preferences are common in toddlers and young children, more severe cases can have a significant impact on a child’s weight gain and growth, and lead to nutritional deficiencies.
While there is no singularly accepted clinical definition of picky eating, generally when a child’s diet becomes limited to less than 20 accepted foods, eating becomes a very stressful and emotional experience, and their growth starts to be impacted we know that the picky eating is not normal and should involve some professional support.
Benefits of Multivitamins For Picky Eaters
The American Academy of Pediatrics stance on multivitamin use in children is that multivitamins aren’t necessary for most children who are consuming a well-balanced diet filled with a variety of whole foods. This is with the exception of vitamin D which our bodies can only make through sun exposure, and most often requires supplementation in the form of 400 IU for infants, and 600 IU in children over one year of age.
However, for picky eaters, or other children with chronic illness, food allergies, or a restrictive diet, a children’s multivitamin can help fill some of the nutritional gaps in their diet to help support their growth and development.
Before beginning any multivitamin supplementation you should always consult with your child’s healthcare provider. Additionally, before beginning a multivitamin or other vitamin supplement for your child, it is important to have blood work done so that you can assess if the supplement is working and needed in the first place.
Common Nutrient Deficiencies In Picky Eaters
Picky eaters can be at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies due to their selective food choices and tendencies to often avoid entire food groups. While nutrient deficiencies do not happen quickly, if a child is consistently avoiding entire food groups over weeks and months, it may be time to have them tested for any nutrient deficiencies so that supplementation can be targeted.
The following are essential vitamins and minerals that children need and are common for picky eaters to become nutrient deficient in if severe picky eating, and the avoidance of entire food groups, continues for an extended period of time:
- Iron: Iron is essential for oxygen transport in the body and cognitive development, it is also one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in both picky and non-picky eaters. This is because the iron needs of infants and young children are very high with infants 7-12 months needing 11 mg/day, toddlers 1–3 years needing 7 milligrams of iron each day, and kids 4–8 years needing 10 milligrams while older kids 9–13 years need 8 milligrams. Picky eaters who avoid iron-rich foods like meat, fish, and leafy greens may be at risk of iron deficiency anemia, as well as children who consume an excessive amount of dairy products beyond the recommended dietary allowances of 16-24 oz/day which can inhibit iron absorption.
- Calcium: Calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth. Picky eaters who avoid dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods may not get enough calcium in their diet.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for immune health, calcium absorption, and bone health. Picky eaters who avoid fatty fish, and fortified dairy, and do not get enough time outside in the sun or live in a region with long-winters may have vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D almost always requires supplementation.
- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is essential for nerve function and the production of red blood cells. Picky eaters who avoid animal products may not get enough B12 in their diet.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s are crucial for brain development and function. Picky eaters who avoid fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts may lack sufficient omega-3 fatty acids.
- Fiber: Fiber is important for digestive health and helps prevent constipation. Picky eaters who avoid fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may not consume enough fiber and could experience GI issues such as constipation.
- Folate (Vitamin B9): Folate is crucial for the growth and development of children, as it plays a key role in cell division and DNA synthesis. Folate deficiency in kids can lead to anemia and may affect their overall growth and development. Food sources of folate include leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale), legumes (lentils, chickpeas), fortified cereals, meat, seafood, and dairy products.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is essential for children as it supports muscle and nerve function, helps convert food into energy, and is important for bone health. A deficiency in magnesium may lead to muscle cramps, irritability, and fatigue. Food sources of magnesium include foods such as nuts (almonds, cashews), seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds), whole grains (oats, brown rice), leafy green vegetables (spinach), and bananas.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect children’s cells from damage and supports a healthy immune system. A deficiency may impair immune function and increase the risk of infections. Food sources of vitamin E include nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds), olive oil, salmon, butternut squash, and spinach.
- Choline: Choline is essential for brain health and development, and it supports memory and learning functions. Children with inadequate choline intake may have difficulty with cognitive development. Food sources of choline include foods like eggs (especially the yolk), beef liver, poultry, fish (salmon), and dairy products (milk, yogurt).
- Zinc: Zinc is essential for immune function and growth, and is a common mineral deficiency found in both picky and non-picky eaters alike. This is mostly due to the decreased zinc levels found in our food supply due to the way our food is being grown. Picky eaters who avoid meat, legumes, and whole grains may be at risk of zinc deficiency.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A is crucial for vision and immune function. Picky eaters who avoid colorful fruits and vegetables may lack sufficient vitamin A.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is important for the immune system and acts as an antioxidant. Picky eaters who avoid citrus fruits and vegetables may be deficient in vitamin C.
- Potassium: Potassium is essential for heart health and proper muscle function. Picky eaters who avoid fruits, vegetables, and beans may not get enough potassium.
It’s important for parents and caregivers to be aware of these potential deficiencies and work to encourage a varied diet for picky eaters. In some cases, supplementation may be necessary to address for any nutrient gaps and ensure optimal growth and development. Consulting with a pediatrician or a registered dietitian can be beneficial in managing picky eating and preventing nutrient deficiencies.
Choosing The Best Multivitamin for Picky Eaters: Things To Look For
When it comes to choosing the best multivitamin for picky eaters there really is no one size fits all approach. What may work well for a friend or family member may not work well for your child, which is why it is always a good idea to consult with your personal healthcare professional before beginning any new supplement for your child.
With that said, I know how confusing and overwhelming it can be to navigate the supplement industry as a parent, which is why we created this guide to do the research and review for you! Some of the things to consider when choosing the best multivitamin for picky eaters, and that we considered when creating this list are the following:
- Meets Recommended Daily Value for Essential Vitamins and Minerals: Not all multivitamins will have the same essential vitamin and mineral formulations and dosing. This is why it is a great idea to have blood work done prior to beginning any supplement so that you are aware of your child’s specific nutrient gaps and the vitamins and minerals you want to prioritize in the supplement you choose. For example, if your child is deficient in zinc or choline you will want to ensure that the multivitamin you choose is providing an adequate amount of these nutrients to fill your child’s nutrient gaps. Additionally, often iron and omega-3 fatty acids will be supplemented separately from multivitamins to allow for specific dosing.
- Age-appropriate Formulations: Before beginning a new multivitamin it is important to check the recommended dose based on the age and weight of your child. Multivitamins that are formulated for specific age groups such as infants, toddlers, kids, and teens are even better tailored to meet children’s specific nutrient needs as they grow.
- Allergen-free Options: More and more supplement brands are opting for common allergen-free/friendly formulations. This is great news for families of children with food allergies, but just because it is becoming more common doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check for allergen-free labeling. This is especially important if your child has any potential allergies to any of the most common allergens.
- Dye-free: There is no reason for artificial colors and dyes to exist in children’s medicine and supplements as it provides no positive or necessary benefits and has only been linked to adverse outcomes in children. My personal preference is to always look for dye-free formulations because daily exposure to dye is just not something that is necessary or that I am comfortable with.
- Low-Sugar/Sugar-free: Added sugar should ideally be avoided in children under 2 years of age or consumed sparingly, and for children over 2 years of age added sugar should be limited to 25g/day. This is why we like to look for multivitamin formulations for children that do not include added sugar or a very limited amount of added sugar.
- Third-Party Independent Testing: Supplements are not regulated by the food and drug administration ((FDA), which means that any supplement you choose should always be third-party tested for not only quality but also trace amounts of heavy metals, allergens, and other pathogens.
Best Multivitamin For Picky Eaters: Dietitian Approved and Reviewed
We reviewed dozens of the most common children’s multivitamin products on the market to develop this helpful list for families looking to supplement their picky eaters diet and fill nutrient gaps. While no supplement can ever compete with a whole-foods diet rich in variety, there are situations, especially for picky eaters, when adding a multivitamin can be helpful to ensure children are meeting their nutrient needs during a time of significant growth and development.
Best Gummy Multivitamin for Picky Eaters
Many multivitamin gummies can be high in sugar content and unhealthy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, and other unhealthy additives to make the gummy texture. This makes most of the gummy multivitamins on the market not ideal for children’s teeth or healthy to consume daily. However, we also know that some picky eaters will only tolerate a gummy multivitamin, which is why we searched for the very best option that you can feel good about giving to your child.
If you are looking for a gummy multivitamin for your picky eater, then this is the one to choose! Sweetened with real fruit and formulated without any cane sugar these gummies are made using vitamins from US-grown fruits and vegetables for optimal absorption. They are also free of the most common allergens and are certified gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, and made in the USA with USA-made ingredients.
Llama Naturals offers a wide assortment of vitamins for the whole family and you can opt into their subscription program for additional savings and ease.
Best Chewable Multivitamin for Picky Eaters
We love Hiya Vitamins for their easy subscription model, whole-foods-based fruit and vegetable blend, third-party tested for contaminants, and just one tablet serving. This multivitamin overall seems to be very well tolerated by kids, making it a great option for picky eaters. It is also free of any added sugar, which makes it a great choice compared to some of the high-sugar gummy vitamins marketed to kids.
This multivitamin provides 100% or more of the recommended daily value for most vitamins for kids 2-3 yr/old, but as kids get older this formulation would only meet between 40-50% so this brand is really better suited for younger picky eaters/children under 3, or kids 4+ who are consuming a varied diet. Unfortunately this multivitamin does not contain choline, which we would love to see added as choline is essential for development and one of the nutrients we know to be lacking in most children’s diets.
If you feel that Hiya would be a great fit for your family, but your picky eater is avoiding more choline-rich foods, then you may want to consider adding an additional choline supplement.
Best Liquid Multivitamin for Picky Eaters
Liquid multivitamins can be a great choice for parents of children who are very resistant to taking any medication. Liquid form multivitamins can be taken directly by mouth, or added to water or other accepted foods like yogurt or applesauce.
We are very impressed by Mary Ruth’s line of supplements and believe that they really are one of the best children’s multivitamins on the market. We love how they tailor their supplement lines to the specific needs of growing children and create supplements specifically for infants, toddlers, kids, and teens, all of whom have different nutrient needs.
Similar to our other favorite multivitamins for picky eaters, Mary Ruth’s focuses on the specific nutrients children are often lacking in their diets and is third-party tested to ensure quality and safety standards. As a mom, I also love the accessibility of this brand, which has a subscription model AND can be found stocked in major retailers like Walmart and Whole Foods, making access to quality children’s multivitamins a little easier.
Tips to Address Picky Eating and Nutrient Deficiences in Kids
- Offer a variety of foods: Introduce a diverse range of nutrient-rich foods to provide essential vitamins and minerals. Be patient, as children and especially picky eaters will need repeated exposure to accept new foods.
- Be creative with preparation: Experiment with different cooking methods and presentations to make foods more appealing to kids. Sometimes a child may refuse a food simply based on how it was cooked or sliced. So before you give up on offering different foods try switching it up with a variety of cooking preparations, textures, and shapes.
- Involve children in meal planning and cooking/baking: Let kids participate in selecting fruits, vegetables, and other foods at the grocery store or farmers’ market. This involvement may increase their interest in trying new foods. It is also a great idea to get them involved in the kitchen from an early age. Children naturally want to be involved with what we are doing, so if they see us cooking and baking they want to do it too! So invest in some child-safe cooking/baking tools and get your child involved in the process of preparing meals.
- Make mealtimes enjoyable: Create a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere during meals. Avoid pressuring or forcing children to eat certain foods and ideally eat together as a family. Try to avoid having too many distractions at mealtime like electronics and toys that could make children less interested in eating.
- Consider supplements if needed: If a child’s picky eating significantly restricts their nutrient intake, consider consulting a pediatrician or a registered dietitian to determine if supplementation is necessary.
- Remember, every child is unique, and it’s essential to approach picky eating with patience and understanding. Encourage a positive and healthy relationship with food to support their overall well-being, and fight the urge to pressure them to eat or cater specifically to their restrictive food choices.
The Importance of Regular Monitoring and Adjustments
No supplement should ever be taken indefinitely without follow-up, especially if the supplement is being given to address an underlying nutrient deficiency. This is why when treating nutrient deficiencies such as iron, vitamin D, or other vitamin or mineral deficiencies in children we recommend testing before supplementation, and then paying close attention and monitoring for signs of improvement.
Ideally, testing for improvement would take place every 3-6 months or at the recommendation of your child’s healthcare provider.
Routine testing and monitoring for improvement will help ensure that supplementation is not exceeding the recommended daily limits, and is not unnecessary. Especially in the case of something like iron supplementation for iron-deficiency anemia. Iron supplements can cause GI upset and constipation, and should not always be continued if iron blood levels have improved to normal.
Multivitamin Safety and Precautions
Remember, since most children’s multivitamins can look like candy and often taste good to children, they should be kept out of reach so a child doesn’t accidentally consume more than they should.
Chewable and gummy multivitamins can also be a choking hazard due to their hard and round shape, so they should not be given to children who cannot safely chew and dissolve the multivitamin in their mouth. Often multivitamin brands will have recommendations on the minimum age a child should be before consuming their product.
When it comes to making informed choices for your child’s well-being remember that you are always going to be your child’s best advocate. So while the standard recommendation may be that children do not need a multivitamin, if you feel like your child’s picky eater behaviors are impacting their overall dietary diversity and nutrient intake then don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions!
There is nothing wrong with requesting lab work to assess your child’s nutrient levels so that you can make an informed choice as to whether a multivitamin may be something worth adding to help fill the nutrient gaps in your picky eater’s diet.