Nutrition supplements

Nutrition supplements

Why nutrition supplements may be used in some pediatric populations


As a dietitian, it is always my goal for children to consume a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, starches, grains, protein, fat and dairy by mouth.  Unfortunately, this is not always possible, which is why nutritional supplements may be used in some pediatric populations.  Below, we will briefly discuss groups these products are indicated for, beginning with the most dependent populations.  

Failure to Thrive/ Malnutrition

The children with the biggest need of supplements are those that have been diagnosed with "failure to thrive"/malnutrition, or who cannot properly absorb the nutrients they need from the diet.

Birth Complications

Complications present at birth can lead to the inability to consume foods orally.  In these cases, a feeding tube is inserted through the nose, mouth, vein or abdomen and leads to the gastro-intestinal tract.  Nutritional supplements can be administered through the tube and likewise nourish the child.  Though some may try, it is strongly discouraged for caregivers to insert table food into the tube, because it can lead to clogging and infection and could also inhibit the child from receiving the balance of nutrients provided by supplements. Therefore, liquid nutritional supplements are used heavily in this population.

Medical Conditions

There are other medical conditions that may not require a feeding tube, but result in the need for a special diet limiting or requiring excess of certain nutrients.  Examples of certain conditions include kidney disease, diabetes, and disorders of absorption.  In these cases, children may need the help from nutrition supplements to provide the specific nutrients required of their condition.  

What about Picky Eaters?

These products are not directed for the "picky-eater" as much as they are for the populations above.  So many children are picky!  Finicky eating behaviors can root from texture or flavor aversions, stress associated with feeding, or simply the desire to play instead of sitting down for a meal.  In these kids, supplements should only be used if the child is malnourished after having already tried recommended approaches.  Other ways to solve this common issue include professional feeding, speech or behavioral therapy.  The professional therapists can offer suggestions about appropriate discipline, routine and parent response to child behaviors, as well as mimic mealtime scenarios for guidance.  It is imperative that supplements not be used simply for ease of the parent, because children can become dependent on them and may eventually prefer the supplement over table food.  

Recommended Supplements for Children

There is a variety of supplements on the market.  The most common liquid supplements for balanced nutrition are:

  • Abbot's ® Pediasure and Nestle's ® Boost Kid Essentials
  • Ovaltine
  • Carnation Instant Breakfast. 

These products offer complete nutrition with ample calories and nutrients for children.  Within each (pediasure, boost, ovaltine and carnation instant breakfast) there are flavor, calorie and nutrient varieties that can be used depending on the child's needs.  In addition to these supplements, are specific products for blood-sugar control (for those with diabetes), products limiting sodium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus (for those with kidney disease) etc.  It is important to talk to your physician or registered dietitian about the product most suitable for your child's specific needs.