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Children, vitamins and minerals

19-minute read

Key facts

  • Vitamins and minerals help keep your child healthy.
  • The best way for your child to get enough vitamins and minerals is from a healthy diet.
  • If you are concerned about your child’s diet, speak with your doctor or a dietitian.

What are vitamins and minerals?

Vitamins and minerals help keep your child healthy. They help with growth and development.

Vitamins and minerals are sometimes called micronutrients. This is because you only need very small amounts in your diet.

The best ways for your child to get enough vitamins and minerals is from a healthy diet.

Offering your child a wide variety of foods from the 5 food groups each day, helps them stay healthy:

  1. lots of vegetables — including different colours and beans
  2. fruit
  3. grain foods — mostly wholegrain breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  4. lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and beans
  5. milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives

They should also drink plenty of water. Once your child is aged over 2 years, they can be given reduced fat milk.

The amount of food your child needs from each food group will depend on their:

  • age
  • sex
  • physical activity

You can read more about the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

What vitamins does my child need?

Children need vitamins for healthy growth. Most vitamins come from food.

Vitamins your child needs
Vitamin Found in Function
Vitamin A Cheese, eggs, oily fish, milk and yoghurt, orange-coloured fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, apricots and rockmelon.
  • Strong immune system
  • Vision
  • Healthy skin
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) Meat and fish – such as pork, vegetables — such as peas, asparagus and squash, fresh and dried fruit, eggs, wholegrain breads, some fortified breakfast cereal.
  • Keeps your nervous system healthy
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) Milk, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, rice.
  • Keeps your skin, eyes and nervous system healthy
Vitamin B3 (niacin) Meat, fish, wheat flour, eggs, milk.
  • Keeps your skin and nervous system healthy
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) Lean meat – such as chicken or turkey fish, whole cereals — such as oatmeal, brown rice and wholegrain bread, eggs, vegetables, soya beans, peanuts, milk and potatoes.
  • Helps store energy from food
  • Forms haemoglobin
Vitamin B9 (folate) Fortified breakfast cereals, broccoli, brussels sprouts, liver, spinach, asparagus, peas, chickpeas.
  • Help form healthy red blood cells
Vitamin B12 (cobalamine) Meats, poultry, seafood, milk, cheese and eggs.
  • Making red blood cells, production of DNA and functioning of your nervous system
Vitamin C Citrus fruit – including oranges and grapefruit, red and green capsicums, potatoes, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, green leafy vegetables — such as broccoli and brussels sprouts.
  • Healthy connective tissue
  • Heal wounds
Vitamin D Made by the skin when exposed to sunlight. Also in oily fish, red meat, offal, egg yolks.
  • Calcium absorption and bone, teeth and muscle health
Vitamin E Plant based oils, nuts and seeds, cereals.
  • Healthy skin and eyes
  • Strong immune system
Vitamin K Green leafy vegetables – such as broccoli and spinach, plant-based oils, nuts and seeds, meat, dairy products and soya beans.
  • Healthy bones
  • Blood clotting

What minerals does my child need?

Children need vitamins for healthy growth. Most vitamins come from food.

Minerals your child needs
Mineral Found in Function
Calcium Milk, cheese, yoghurt, fortified soya products, fish where you eat the bones (sardines). Small amounts are found in green leafy vegetables.
  • Builds strong bones and teeth
  • Regulates your heartbeat
  • Helps your blood clot
Iodine Seafood, milk and iodised salt, which is used in bread in Australia.
  • Makes thyroid hormones
Iron Meat (beef, lamb, chicken and liver) are the best sources. You can also get some iron from — beans, nuts, dried fruit, wholegrain cereals (brown rice), dark green leafy vegetables. However, iron found in plant foods is less easily absorbed.
  • Makes red blood cells
Potassium Fruit and vegetables, fruit juice, nuts and seeds, fish and shellfish, meat.
  • Keeps your heart healthy
  • Manages fluid balance in your body
Zinc Meat, shellfish, dairy foods, eggs, legumes, and wholegrain foods.
  • Makes new cells and enzymes
  • Wound healing

What can cause a vitamin or mineral deficiency?

A vitamin or mineral deficiency can happen if your child does not eat enough vitamin or minerals over a long period of time (usually months).

The symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies vary.

What if my child has a special diet?

There are many reasons why your child might have a special diet. This might be because of:

  • your beliefs
  • a health condition
  • your child’s food preferences

Children who need to follow a special diet may have to eat more vitamins or minerals. It’s a good idea to talk with a dietitian if your child has a special diet.

Vegetarian diet

It’s possible for your child to get all the vitamins and minerals they need if they’ll eat dairy products and eggs, as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Vegan diet

If your child has a vegan diet, you will need to plan their diet carefully. The key vitamin that can’t be obtained on a vegan diet is Vitamin B12. This vitamin is only found in animal products. Some soy-based foods have added vitamin B12. It’s common for vegans to take a vitamin B12 supplement.

Other minerals that can be difficult to get enough on a vegan diet are:

  • iron
  • zinc
  • calcium

Iron, zinc and calcium are found in:

  • legumes
  • tofu
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • calcium-enriched soy and other plant-based drinks

Children on a vegan diet who don’t eat enough of these foods may also need a supplement.

Check with an accredited practising dietitian that your child’s diet offers all the nutrients they need for healthy growth. You may need to give your child supplements when breast feeding finishes.

Food allergies and intolerances

Food allergies may also make it harder for your child to get all the vitamins and minerals that they need.

It’s best to talk with your doctor or a dietitian to check that your child has a well-balanced diet.

When should my child see a doctor?

You should see your doctor if you’re worried about their growth and development.

You can also see a dietitian. They can check that your child is getting all the vitamins and minerals they need.

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Should I give my child supplements?

If you’re planning on giving your child vitamin or mineral supplements, you should:

  • read the label
  • follow the instructions for use

Possible harm from supplements

In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) checks all supplements for safety and quality.

It’s important to let your doctor and pharmacist know that your child is taking supplements. Some supplements can have side effects and interact with other medicines.

Supplements aren’t risk-free. Consuming more vitamins and minerals is not always better for you. Too much of some vitamins and minerals can be potentially harmful if your body can’t get rid of them.

Supplements may give you a false sense of security if your child eats a lot of junk food. Adding supplements to a poor diet does not make it healthy.

Supplements can also be expensive.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2022

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