Vitamins And Minerals For Toddlers
The period in a child’s development between one and three years of age can often be a difficult one – particularly when it comes to eating. Food and nutrients are the building blocks which help to form strong teeth and bones, muscles and healthy tissues. A good diet can also help to protect against illness.
Important nutrients for toddlers
Vitamins for health
Particularly important vitamins are A, C and D.
Vitamin A is needed for:
boosting immunity, and
Vitamin A can often be lacking in the diets of toddlers.
Vitamin C is important for:
the immune system,
helping wounds to heal,
healthy bones, and
It also helps in the absorption of iron, especially iron from non-meat sources. Vitamin C intakes are often low in children who don’t eat much in the way of fruit and vegetables.
Vitamin D is:
essential for the absorption of:
necessary for the assimilation of vitamin A,
necessary for the health of the bones and teeth,
necessary for the metabolism of calcium and magnesium, and
required for kidney function.
Vitamin D can be synthesised through the action of sunlight on the skin. In winter, and if your child is always covered if outside, make sure you include dietary sources of vitamin D, along with supplements (in tablet or liquid form) that contain this vitamin.
The B group vitamins are very important, particularly B6 which is:
necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12,
required for the production of antibodies and red blood cells,
required to absorb zinc,
essential for the metabolism of protein, carbohydrates and fats, and
necessary for the synthesis of nucleic acid.
Minerals for health
The minerals iron, calcium and zinc are all needed by the growing toddler.
necessary for the production of hemoglobin in red blood cells and certain enzymes,
necessary for immune activity,
required to supply oxygen to the cells, and
required by the liver.
Iron-deficiency is common in toddlers as iron requirements are high but dietary intake is often low, especially if little or no meat is eaten. If your toddler is listless, irritable, tires easily, yawns all the time and is very pale, then it may be a good idea to have them checked for anaemia.
Poor eating habits, monotonous diets, overemphasis on foods that have a low iron content, too much liquid in the form of milk and fruit juice, can all contribute to a lack of iron in the diet.
necessary for the action of the muscles,
required by the brain and the nervous system,
necessary for blood clotting,
necessary for strong bones and teeth,
necessary for cell structure, and
required for the body to absorb vitamin B12.
The recommended intake of calcium for this age group is 800 mg a day. Requirements will be met as long as the child consumes enough food sources of calcium. Good sources of dietary calcium are shown below.
required for most body processes, including energy production,
required to bind calcium to the teeth and bones,
required for the contraction and relaxation of muscles (including the heart),
required for growth and repair, and
necessary for bone development.
Magnesium deficiency in young children has been associated with hyperactive behaviour.
required for growth, energy metabolism, and immunity,
necessary for insulin storage,
required for carbon dioxide transportation,
necessary for making the collagen in the body, including the bones, and
necessary for vitamin A metabolism and distribution.
A toddler with a zinc deficiency may fail to grow, have a poor appetite, and their cuts and scrapes may take longer than normal to heal. The best sources of zinc are meat and fish, especially seafood, which many toddlers may not be inclined to eat. Zinc is, therefore, a nutrient that you may have to supplement.
Vitamins & Minerals For Toddlers
Nutrient Food Sources
Vitamin A – Yellow and orange fruit and vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, mango, apricots), dark green vegetables, liver and dairy products.
Vitamin C – Citrus fruits, berries, and vegetables (provided that they are not cooked until very soft), potatoes and fruit juice.
Vitamin D – Oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines) and dairy products.
Vitamin B6 – Avocados, bananas, fish, liver, wheat bran, cantaloupe, cabbage, milk and eggs.
Iron – Meat-based (haem) sources – beef, pork, lamb; plant-based (non-haem) sources – fortified cereals, bread, dried fruit, eggs, beans and pulses and green leafy vegetables (cabbage, spring greens, broccoli and green beans).
Calcium – Dairy products – milk, yogurt, cheese (unless avoiding dairy) – dark green vegetables, sesame seeds, canned fish with soft edible bones, fortified orange juice and pulses.
Magnesium – Brown rice, soybeans, legumes, brewer’s yeast.
Zinc – Offal, meat, mushrooms, oysters, eggs and wholegrain products.
The amount of energy toddlers require depends on how fast they are growing and how active they are. Between the ages of 1 and 3 years, children need about 1300 kcal or 5500 kJ a day.
Most toddlers in the western world do not suffer from protein deficiency. In fact, they may eat more protein than they require. It is suggested that toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 only require 16 g of protein a day. Malnourished children may have protein and energy deficiencies, which need to be addressed if the child is to grow and develop normally.
What you can do to help
There are a number of things that you can do to assist your toddler to learn healthy eating patterns and to get the nutrients they need.
Toddlers have a very small stomach capacity and cannot handle a lot of food at a meal.
The basic rule that can be applied to the dietary intake of toddlers from the ages of 1 to 3 years, is one tablespoon of each food for every year of life.
A 1 year old child would be given one tablespoon at a time of cereal, pureed fruit, cooked meat, cooked vegetable, and one egg, and milk and dairy products in portions of a cup at a time.
A 2 year old child would be given two tablespoons at a time of the different foods.
A 3 year old child would be given three tablespoons at a time of the various foods.
This is one reason why you need to give toddlers a number of small meals every day and not expect them to eat large quantities at three main meals like adults.
Many of the problems experienced at meal times during the first three years of life are due to the unrealistic expectations of caring adults. A tiny child just cannot eat large amounts of food and cannot thrive on only three meals a day.
Both the child and the parents will experience less stress and meals will be pleasant, happy times if you offer the child portions that are suitable for the child’s age and let the child eat six or more small meals a day. This means that healthy snacks are important to help provide the energy and nutrition your toddler needs during the day.
Toddlers’ appetites and food intake can vary daily.
New foods may be rejected at first, so be patient and keep offering them.
Offer your toddler a variety of different foods, flavours and textures for balanced nutrition and to help them enjoy new tastes.
Children will learn to eat what the family eats if they are given the same food and encouraged to try it.
Low fat or restricted diets are not recommended for toddlers as they may result in poor growth.
Mealtimes should be relaxed and happy. Suggestions include:
Let your child explore food by touching, and expect some mess.
Let children feed themselves, and give help if needed.
Toddlers should sit at the table and eat with the family, whenever possible, so they can watch and copy others, try the family foods and enjoy company while eating.
Keep it relaxed, so don’t have too many distractions like the TV on.
Offer encouragement, and be patient.
Talk pleasantly to your child at mealtimes – not just about food.
Don’t ask your child to eat quickly, try to let them experience and learn from meal times.
To reduce the risk of choking, safety suggestions include:
toddlers and young children should be supervised when eating,
encourage your child to always eat sitting down to prevent falls and accidents, and
avoid small hard foods, such as nuts, raw carrot, hard lollies and popcorn. Offer lightly steamed vegetable sticks instead.
Toddlers should be offered all drinks in a cup. Some children may fill up on drinks, particularly sweet ones like juice, and this leaves little room for solid food. Suggestions include:
offer up to three glasses of milk only per day, and water at other times,
give food before drinks at mealtimes, particularly for small or picky eaters, and
juice and sweetened drinks are unnecessary.
Note on Dairy
We are not enthusiastic supporters of dairy. If your toddler complains of tummy pains or has excessive wind or diarrhea after eating dairy then he or she may be lactose intolerant.
Lactose is the form of sugar in dairy products and without sufficient lactase enzyme it cannot be properly digested and this causes the symptoms above.
Also, dairy products are mucogenic. They cause congestion through production of thickened or excess mucous. If you toddler seems to be congested or ‘snuffly’ and irritable, remove the dairy products from the diet and see if things improve after a few days.
Bland, J. 1996, Contemporary Nutrition. J & B Associates.
Davies, S. and A. Stewart., 1997, Nutritional Medicine. Pan.
Elliot, N. 2004, Green Peace. Practical Parenting.
Sullivan, K. 2002, Vitamins and Minerals: A Practical Approach to a Health Diet and Safe Supplementation. Harper Collins.