The Importance of Nutrition in Newborn and Toddler Cognitive Development

The first 1000 days of a child’s life are important since it represents the most active period of brain development. But new data shows that some toddlers may not be getting all the recommended nutrients to support optimal development. Here’s the scoop on how to support it from the start.

Brain development doest not stop at age one. In fact, 85% of brain growth occurs within the first three years of a child’s life, and poor nutrition in this timeframe can have lasting effects. Although most children have an adequate intake of most vitamins and nutrients, new data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that many young children aren’t getting adequate or recommended amounts of key nutrients such as calcium, DHA, vitamin D, and iron.

Adequate iron intake is needed for children’s growth, brain development, and immune health. But it is estimated that approximately 1.2 million children ages 1 to 3 in the United States may have iron deficiency. Vitamin D supports bone health, but 79.2% of children 1-2 year-olds and 87.3% of 2-3 year-olds do not consume an adequate amount of vitamin D.

DHA is important for the brain development of toddlers. Yet the data showed that almost the entire population (97–99%) of children aged 1-6 had DHA intakes below the expert-recommended amounts. Furthermore, the data estimated that 17% of toddlers 1-6 years old have inadequate intakes of calcium, a building block for healthy bones.

Parents can do things to help close the gaps and get children engaged in eating nutrient-dense foods. When it comes to trying new foods, reading books with your child about different foods can be a low-pressure way to build confidence. Plant a fruit or vegetable garden to encourage them to eat more produce. Fill a muffin tin with various nutritious foods like nuts, berries, chopped veggies, whole grain crackers, cheese, etc. It makes snack-time fun, and it allows your toddler to be ‘in control,’ but you’ll have peace of mind knowing your child is choosing from healthy foods. Lastly, toddler nutritional drinks can also be an easy way to help address nutrient gaps. A great one is Enfagrow® Toddler Nutritional Drink by the maker of Enfamil. Enfagrow can complement a toddler’s diet to help fill nutrient gaps, which will help ensure they’re getting important vitamins to support growth and brain development.  Enfagrow is made with real milk, and it contains nutrients like DHA, vitamin D, and iron. In fact, 2 servings have 70% of the daily value of iron toddlers need for development, and it helps support growth with as much iron as about 2 gallons of milk. You can find Enfagrow at local grocery stores and most retailers like Walmart, Target, and Amazon.  

Start good habits early, but don’t worry if your child is going through a picky phase. It’s common, and implementing some of these tips may help.

For more information, visit or talk to your pediatrician.

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