Some kids are superstars and love to take their daily food supplements. But others refuse point blank. A rebellion at the breakfast table is the last thing you need when you are in a rush to do the school run, so here are some simple tips to help give your kids food supplements.
This post is focused on children who cannot swallow tablets or capsules and need a little bit more help to take their vitamins, minerals, and probiotics or fish oils.
The cheap multivitamins and fish oils that you find in the supermarket are often made to look and taste like sweets but unfortunately these commonly contain more colourings, unwanted flavourings and fake sugars than actual goodness. However, the better quality and purer supplements are often not created with a child’s palate in mind, so they can prove tricky to administer. When you do need to give one or several more “icky” supplements to your child here are some brilliant tips to help the “medicine” go down:
Have a positive can-do attitude: You need to send the message to your little one that the supplement is essential and there are no ifs or buts. Kids are very sharp and will pick up on any hesitation, so just go for it!
Explain why: Your child should know why the supplement has been recommended. It is the special “medicine”. Tell this direct or via a social story if needed. If someone else has recommended it (like me!) then say so, as this will reinforce the message.
Give your attention: Kids often play up when they discover it gets them attention, so make sure they already have something to feel positive about before giving them supplements, even if it is anticipation of something nice happening after the supplements.
Get organised: Place the supplements on your kitchen table or worktop before you go to bed, so they are ready for the next morning and there no excuses that you have forgotten. If multiple supplements are needed throughout the day, then invest in a supplement daily organiser with several compartments so you can count out seven days in advance.
Keep supplements separate from meals: Try not to hide drops, powders or pills in mealtime food or drink as this can make kids very suspicious of what they are eating and drinking and can lead into a fussy eating phase. It is usually best to give supplements at the start of a meal so you remember and it is over and done with. Occasionally the supplements need to be taken on waking or before bed and always use the same method to do this.
Special brew: Find a thick juice (think strawberry, banana, tropical or orange), fruit smoothie, fruit purée or yoghurt that is already popular and use this for the base for supplements. For the most fussy children then give the smoothie out of the syringe without any added supplements for three days so they get used to the process.
If the specific supplement is not available in liquids or chewables, remember you can crush tablets between two teaspoons or open up the capsules. You then mix the supplement and purée together in a ramekin or small glass jar and give via a spoon or syringe. I will give more cunning ideas in my next post!
Start low and slow: Introduce the supplement slowly over a week starting with a sprinkle of a capsule, or one drop and build up day by day until you reach the required dose. This helps get used to the taste slowly and the body can also get slowly used to it. If your child needs to be on multiple supplements then add in the next one on the list the following week in the same way. Most supplements can be given together.
Be consistent: Once you have started giving daily supplements, keep going, as soon your child will expect the supplements at specific times and may well even ask for them, like our youngest!
Give rewards: Praise kids for taking supplements and operate a reward chart or give other reinforcers to ensure it has been a positive experience.
In a dream world your child would be so healthy that there was no need to take food supplements and just a great diet would keep perfect tip top health. Unfortunately many of the children I see in my clinic lab tests show extremely low vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, good bacteria and other essential nutrients whether they are fussy eaters or eat a good well-balanced diet. This is commonly due to poor digestion and assimilation of nutrients rather than actual food intake. Also just as different machines need different fuel, we all have our own individual metabolism and will have differing needs for specific nutrients. Sometimes this is an everyday need and in many cases the supplements are needed only for a few days or months to optimise your child’s nutritional status.
My next post will focus on some even cleverer ways to get supplements into children. This is especially for those with sensory issues or feeding phobias.