Tips for Choosing a Children's Multivitamin

Supportive supplement or candy-coated con?
assortment of vitamins and supplements on a table next to a glass of water
© Can Stock Photo / peshkova

While it can be tempting to pick up those colourful, character-shaped children’s vitamins at your local big box store, it’s important to remember that part of what makes many of them so irresistibly attractive to the kid set and über affordable for parents is a concoction of superfluous ingredients and cheap synthetic vitamins. And although many parents, with the best intentions, believe that some vitamins offer more protection than no vitamins, the reality is you really do get what you pay for. And in the case of candy-cum-vitamins, it turns out that often what you get is: not much. Here’s what you need to know about buying multivitamins.

Does my child actually need a multivitamin?

As naturopathic doctors, we spend a lot of time speaking with parents about their children’s eating habits. Time and time again we hear the same things: “They’re just so picky!” “They won’t eat vegetables!” “They only eat the same five foods!” Our goal in these situations is to create strategies that are geared to optimizing the child’s palate and attracting them to a wider variety of foods. But let’s be honest: this isn’t always successful! In these cases, we do, at times, find ourselves recommending a children’s multivitamin to ensure that all their nutritional requirements are met.

Choosing a multivitamin can be quite complicated, and all are not created equally. In fact, in order to even be considered a strong contender for the best multivitamin for your child, there are pretty specific criteria that need to be met! Each situation is unique, so if your ND or health care provider has suggested a multivitamin, talk to them before buying in order to find the form, brands, and dosage that’s right for your child.

What to look for in a multivitamin

1. Purity of ingredients

Although it seems ironic in an item designed to support health, there are actually a ton of multivitamins for children on the market that are full of chemicals, fillers, and additives. Regrettably, many children’s brands also contain loads of sugar, additional colouring, and binding agents that are, at worst, toxic and, at best, completely unnecessary. This makes a parent's job of navigating the world of multivitamins all the more difficult. Reading labels is a skill well-worth developing and will certainly help in identifying a premium multivitamin. Use that phone to your advantage! Google any ingredient you don’t recognize–you’ll be amazed at what you learn!

Multivitamin additives to avoid

  • Corn syrup

  • Artificial colouring

  • Hydrogenated oils (soybean)

  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

  • Dicalcium phosphate

  • Sodium selenite/selenite

  • Soy lecithin

  • Artificial sugars (glucose syrup, fructose, sucrose, aspartame, sucralose, maltodexterin)

  • Titanium dioxide

  • Magnesium silicate

  • Magnesium stearate

  • Talc

2. Absorbability of nutrients

When comparing multivitamins and supplements in general, you’ll probably notice that nutrients can come in different forms which vary in both how well they are absorbed and utilized by the body (bioavailability), and how much they’ll cost you. Look for the more bioavailable or activated (which means they have been combined with specific enzymes in order to make them bioavailable) forms.

Nutrient Harder to absorb Look for
calcium carbonate citrate
B12 cyanocobalamin methylcobalamin
magnesium sulfate citrate or glycinate
folic acid without 5-MTHF with 5-MTHF

3. Dosage

Not only do you need to look at the quality of your vitamins, but you should consider just how much of each vitamin you are actually getting. Many multivitamins, for both children and adults alike, contain very low doses of vitamins and minerals. A good practice is to aim for a therapeutic dose of each vitamin, but the need will vary according to the particular child, so it’s important to consult with your health practitioner.

How much of the good stuff does my child need?

Since there isn’t one perfect multivitamin, when shopping around, look for one that contains as many of the key vitamin/mineral doses as possible:

calcium citrate 50 – 100 mg
magnesium citrate or bisglycinate 50 – 100 mg
zinc citrate 2 – 5 mg
iron glycinate 2 – 10 mg
vitamin C 250 mg
folic acid 150 mcg 

Another great way to ensure a therapeutic dose is to opt for powdered or liquid vitamins. These are water-soluble and tend to have the most bang for their buck because they don’t rely on as many additives as traditional vitamin forms. There are also some fantastic chewables available on the market —be on the look-out for those that contain the key vitamins/minerals listed above and are free from added sugars, colours, and fillers.

As parents and health care professionals, we know it can be challenging to strike a healthy balance between providing your child with what they believe they want and what they truly need. Ensure you are always offering them meals and snacks made with adequate nutrients from high-quality, fresh foods rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, and healthy fats. A multivitamin may be a great addition to the diet of both picky and adventurous eaters, so ask your health care provider for more information on one that may be right for your family.