Alternatives to Vitamins for Picky Eaters

Brother and sister drinking milk in the kitchen
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The advice that parents of picky eaters often get is "just give them a vitamin." We'd all like our kids to eat a wide range of healthy foods. But despite our best efforts, some kids end up with a very limited repertoire of foods they'll eat. So, if your kids don't eat fruits, vegetables, or dairy, or seem to pick at everything you give them, you may be tempted give them a vitamin to make sure they get the nutrition they need.

A daily multi-vitamin can indeed be good nutrition insurance against missing out on important nutrients, like iron, vitamin D, and calcium. Depending on which gaps in your child's diet you need to fill, you could give them a gummy vitamin, chewable multi-vitamin, or vitamin to simply get extra vitamin D.

However, it's also ideal to work on acclimating your child to eating a more varied diet, even if you also give them a daily vitamin. It's challenging for vitamins to provide all the nutrition your child needs, particularly as the goal is for them to eat a varied diet of whole foods. Learn more about alternatives to vitamins for picking eaters.

Alternatives to Vitamins

But what do you do when your picky eater is so picky that he won't even take a daily vitamin? It may come as a surprise to some parents, but there are kids who think that chewable vitamins are too chalky and who won't even touch a gummy vitamin. What do you do then?

You could try different brands of chewable vitamins and gummy vitamins in different flavors and with different characters, hoping they will like one of them, but that is an expensive option. Vitamins for kids aren't cheap.

Of course, the best alternative to a vitamin is simply to get your kids to eat more whole foods that are chock full of vitamins, removing the reason that you thought they needed vitamins in the first place.

That is, in fact, the advice of the American Dietetic Association, which states that "the best nutrition-based strategy for promoting optimal health and reducing the risk of chronic disease is to wisely choose a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods."

These nutrient-rich foods would include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Eating a lot of these foods might be easier said than done for a picky eater, though. One easy, although not necessarily inexpensive, alternative to vitamins for picky eaters might be that instead of plain milk, you give your child a nutrition drink, such as:

  • BOOST Kid Essentials
  • Carnation Breakfast Essentials (powder or ready-to-drink)
  • PediaSure with Fiber
  • PediaSure Sidekicks (fewer calories and less fat than regular PediaSure)

Available in a lot of different flavors, these nutrition drinks can also provide your child with extra fiber, protein, and calories. You do want to make sure that the extra calories from these drinks don't fill your child up and make them eat even less food, though. Ovaltine is another popular drink mix that you can add to milk to supplement some of the vitamins and minerals your kids get.

Vitamin Fortified Foods

Lastly, if your child won't take a vitamin and you really think he should, you could try to give him more vitamin-fortified foods. For example, instead of regular peanut butter, you might offer your picky eater Peter Pan Plus peanut butter, which includes extra vitamin A, iron, vitamin E, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, and copper.

And if you make their peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a good whole wheat bread (read the nutrition label), then they will also get extra fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and some other vitamins and minerals too.

Choosing a good breakfast cereal is another good way to find a vitamin-fortified food to help take the place of a vitamin.

Instead of sugary cereal, give your picky eater a more vitamin-fortified cereal, such as Total or Multi Grain Cheerios. Other vitamin-fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods that your picky eater might eat or drink include:

  • A low-sugar kids' yogurt that is fortified with calcium and vitamin D
  • A kids' energy bar, such as the Clif Kid ZBar
  • Instant oatmeal that is fortified with iron, calcium, vitamin A, and other nutrients
  • Enriched pasta
  • Mott's Plus Light Juice with vitamin D, vitamin C, and calcium
  • Mott's Plus for Kids' Health Juice with vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and some iron
  • Vitamin-fortified orange juice, many of which add vitamin D, including Tropicana Healthy Kids orange juice and Minute Maid Kids+ orange juice
  • Vitamin-fortified soy milk

Even some fruit juice, like Minute Maid Kids+ Apple Juice and Fruit Punch, has added vitamins and calcium. Of course, that doesn't mean that a box of apple juice could take the place of a multi-vitamin, but by choosing enough whole foods and vitamin-fortified foods, you could certainly feel comfortable that your kids are getting all of the vitamins and minerals they need. Reviewing your child's diet with your pediatrician could help to make sure he doesn't need an extra supplement.

1 Source
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  1. Marra MV, Boyar AP. Position of the American Dietetic Association: nutrient supplementation. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(12):2073-85. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.10.020

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.