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Jose Manuel Gelpi Diaz

Question: Does my picky seven-year-old need a multivitamin?

Answer: That's a question I am often asked by parents, so you're not alone. In an ideal world, kids would eat plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains. And they'd eat enough calcium-rich foods and they'd routinely choose nutritious snacks over junk food. But the reality is that many Canadian kids eat a narrow range of healthy foods and don't meet the minimum recommendations of Canada's Food Guide.

There are many obstacles that prevent kids from getting enough nutrients in their daily diet – picky eating, food allergies, vegetarian diets, and hectic schedules that leave little time for family meals. Each can be a reason for adding a multivitamin to your child's daily routine.

First and foremost, don't give up on offering your child healthy foods. Research has shown it can take as many as 10 attempts before a child accepts a new food. It's also important to ensure kids arrive at the table hungry and motivated to eat meals. Try withholding juice and snacks one hour before meal time to see if that helps.

In the meantime, if you feel there are big gaps in your child's diet, a multivitamin and mineral can help bridge them. And it might do more. A review of 13 studies investigating the influence of a multivitamin and mineral supplement on intelligence in children found that most studies reported a positive effect, especially in kids whose diets were low in vitamins and minerals.

Children's multivitamins are formulated for kids aged two to 12. They differ from adult's not only in their lower nutrient doses, but also in their form, ranging from chewable tablets to gummy bears to liquid drops. Some formulas contain vitamins only, usually vitamins A, D, E, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12 and folic acid. Others are fortified with iron (4 or 5 milligrams) and some have added calcium (125 to 160 milligrams). Menstruating girls, vegetarians and children who don't like meat should choose a formula with iron.

Something else to consider: children's multivitamins labelled "complete" may not contain all vitamins and minerals important to a child's health. And that's okay, provided your child gets the rest from his diet. But if you're giving your child a multivitamin because his diet lacks iron or calcium, read labels to be sure you're buying what your child needs.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.