key nutrients in childhood

Young childreen need all the same nutrients as adults do, but they’re growing fast, developing quickly, and they’re typically very active. There are certain nutrients that are important to watch for with kids this age.


One of the key nutrients for children is iron. 9% of toddlers in the United States are iron deficient. Some great sources of iron include meat, poultry, fish, seeds, nuts, and legumes such as soya beans, lentils, and chickpeas.


Vitamin D is needed for proper bone development and a healthy immune system. Some foods have vitamin D added, like milk, but it’s still nearly impossible to get enough of it through food. There’s just not enough vitamin D that occurs naturally in our food, and the amount that’s added is not enough.

It is possible to get vitamin D from exposure to the sun, but if you live north of Atlanta, Georgia, the angle of the sun from October through April doesn’t provide strong enough rays to stimulate vitamin D production. For these reasons vitamin D is one of the few nutrients I recommend supplements for.


Calcium is also key for bone growth and bone mineral density. If children are drinking milk and consuming dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, they usually get enough calcium. However, if your family follows a vegan or paleo diet, or if your child just doesn’t like the taste of dairy products, focus on feeding them foods that are high in calcium.

Some good sources of calcium are soy alternatives, chickpeas, sesame seeds, broccoli, kale, and canned fish with bones (for non vegans).


Hydration for children is also incredibly important. Children’s body weight is made up of more water than adults’. Children also lose fluids easier, since they typically have a high activity level, are more prone to diarrheal viruses, and have a larger body surface area relative to their weight.

Children should be offered water frequently throughout the day, and milk or a suitable alternative should be offered at mealtimes. I recommend keeping juice a special occasion beverage, since it has more sugar than necessary. Children often fill up on juice and are not hungry for the foods that contain the nutrients they really need.


These are simply a few key nutrients during toddlerhood. It’s important to offer children a wide variety of foods from all the food groups to ensure a healthy, balanced diet.


Do you believe your child is meeting their daily needs for these key nutrients?


ages 1-3 = 7mg

ages 4-8 = 10mg

ages 9-13 = 8mg

Vitamin D:

ages 1 + up: 600 IU


ages 1-3 = 700mg

ages 4-8 = 1000mg

ages 9-18: 1300mg

If you’re not sure, speak to your physician or registered dietitian for an individualized assessment.