Key Nutrients for Your Toddler: 1 to 3 Years

It’s not your imagination: During this period, your toddler is growing fast. In fact, she’s growing faster than she will as a 4- or 5-year-old. Not surprisingly, her body needs good nutrition to support this growth. Here are some important nutrients.

ARA (arachidonic acid)

What does it do? ARA is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid and an important omega-6 fatty acid in the brain. ARA is a component of all cells and important for cell signaling. It can be formed in human cells from linoleic acid (another omega-6 fatty acid).

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils—such as sunflower, safflower, and corn—are sources of omega-6 fatty acids. Meat, poultry, and eggs have ARA in small amounts.

Calcium

What does it do? It allows for healthy tooth and bone development, aids in blood clotting, and supports nerve and muscle function.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, yogurt, cheese, fortified or enriched grain products, green leafy vegetables (kale, collard greens, mustard greens), sardines, and salmon.

Carbohydrates

What do they do? Carbohydrates supply energy to fuel your child’s activity and growth. Glucose, a type of carbohydrate, is the brain’s main source of energy.

Where can my child get them? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, whole grain products such as breads and cereals, potatoes, corn, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

Choline

What does it do? Choline helps support healthy brain development. It’s important for the normal functioning of all cells.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, milk, liver, eggs, and peanuts.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)

What does it do? DHA is one of two key long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that occur throughout the body (the other is EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid). DHA is a major omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and important for brain and eye development.

Where can my baby get it? Breast milk (but the levels can vary based on the mother’s diet), toddler milk drinks, and fatty coldwater fish—such as salmon, bluefin tuna, black cod, sardines, and herring . Small amounts are also present in meat and eggs.

Fluoride

What does it do? It supports healthy tooth development, strengthening tooth enamel and helping prevent and control tooth decay.

Where can my child get it? Fluoridated water and supplements (if your main source of drinking water has an insufficient concentration of fluoride).

Folate

What does it do? It helps the body form red blood cells and supports the formation of genetic material in every cell in the brain and throughout the body.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, liver, green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grain breads and cereals, fortified or enriched grain products, oranges, cantaloupe, and lean beef.

Iodine

What does it do? Iodine helps regulate cellular growth and the synthesis of thyroid hormones affecting the brain, as well as the muscles, heart, kidneys, and pituitary gland. Deficiency, while very rare in developed countries, can cause neurodevelopmental problems and is the top cause of mental retardation worldwide.

How much does my child need? RDA is 90 mcg/day.
Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, seafood, and iodized salt.

Iron

What does it do? Iron is vital to the formation and function of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. It’s important for psychomotor and mental development.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, meat, liver, legumes, whole grain breads and cereals, fortified or enriched grain products, and dark green vegetables.

Niacin

What does it do? It helps the body release energy from other nutrients.
How much does my child need RDA is 6 mg/day.

Where can my child get it?Breast milk, toddler milk, meat, poultry, fish, whole grain breads and cereals, fortified or enriched grain products, and egg yolks.

Protein

What does it do? Protein builds, maintains, and repairs your child’s tissues. It produces hormones, enzymes, and antibodies, helping regulate the body’s processes, and it can provide energy.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, meat, fish, poultry, egg yolks, cheese, yogurt, and legumes.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

What does it do? Riboflavin helps the body utilize energy from other nutrients.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, meat, dairy products, egg yolks, legumes, green vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, and fortified or enriched grain products.

Thiamin (Vitamin B1)

What does it do? Thiamin helps the body release energy from carbohydrates and is needed for the nervous system and muscles to function.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, lean pork, wheat germ, enriched products such as whole grain breads and cereals, legumes, and potatoes.

Vitamin A

What does it do? Vitamin A aids general growth, specifically by helping to build healthy skin, hair, and mucous membranes. It also supports the immune system and helps vision function.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, liver, egg yolks, and dark green and deep yellow fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin B6

What does it do? It helps the body build tissues and metabolize protein. This B vitamin also aids in the development of the central nervous system synthesis of hemoglobin.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, liver, meat, whole grain products such as breads and cereals, legumes, and potatoes.

Vitamin B12

What does it do? Vitamin B12 promotes red blood cell health, neurological function, and the formation of genetic material in the blood cells.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, meat, fish, poultry, cheese, egg yolks, and liver.

Vitamin C

What does it do? A component in the formation of collagen—a protein used to build bone, cartilage, muscle, and connective tissue—vitamin C helps maintain healthy blood vessels, heal wounds, absorb iron, and support immune function.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, fruit (citrus fruits, papaya, cantaloupe, strawberries), and vegetables (potatoes, cabbage).

Vitamin D

What does it do? Aiding the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, it allows for healthy bone formation.

Where can my child get it? Toddler milk drinks, egg yolks, liver, fatty fish, and sunlight (synthesized in the body upon exposure of skin to sun).

Vitamin E

What does it do? Vitamin E works as an antioxidant and helps protect vitamin A and fatty acids.

Where can my child get it?Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, wheat germ, whole grain breads and cereals, fortified or enriched grain products, butter, liver, and egg yolks.

Vitamin K

What does it do? It enables proper blood clotting.

Where can my child get it? Toddler milk drinks, vegetable oils, green leafy vegetables, pork, and liver. There is a very small amount in breast milk.

Zinc

What does it do? Zinc helps support a healthy immune system, as well as helping in wound healing and regulating blood, bone, and tissue formation. Next to iron, it’s the most abundant metal in the brain, and it’s essential to the development and functioning of the central nervous system.

Where can my child get it? Breast milk, toddler milk drinks, meat, liver, egg yolks, oysters and other seafood, whole grain breads and cereals, fortified or enriched grain products, and legumes.