Skip to content
Gentle by nature

Toddler Nutrition 101: How nutrition affects behavior

Toddler Nutrition 101: How nutrition affects behavior

As fun as life with a toddler can be, living with their ever-changing moods can sometimes be a real challenge. Fits of stubbornness, tantrums and non-existent attention spans can be frustrating for parents. But while it’s true that much of this is to be expected as little ones develop a sense of independence and mature emotionally, the food they eat and the nutrients they absorb also play a big role in how they process emotions and behave.

By Dr. Suzanne Bartolini, N.D.

Most of us realize that nutrition is crucial for physical development, but we may not be fully aware of how important it is for brain development, too. 80% of brain development happens in the first three years of life – including development of the frontal lobes, which control our ability to think, plan, problem solve, and focus on tasks. Research shows that when this area of the brain lacks essential nutrients, children will display less ability to focus and concentrate, and they may also display behavioural problems such as tantrums and hyperactivity. So what can we do to ensure we’re feeding our toddler’s brain the right stuff?

Keep it real

Many processed foods contain emulsifiers, preservatives, thickeners and additives, that are considered to be neurotoxins or excitotoxins. These are substances that can affect the central nervous system and can impact behavior, especially in children. At the grocery store, opt for whole foods whenever possible (choosing a mix of protein, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and whole grains!). And when purchasing packaged foods, read the labels carefully in order to steer clear of the biggest culprits: high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, artificial hydrogenated oils, and artificial food colours.

Know your vitamins, minerals and nutrients

Providing your little one with the right mix of vitamins, minerals, and vital nutrients will boost physical and mental health, which both have a big impact on overall mood and behavior. Here’s what they need – and how to get it.

Why? Best sources How much?
Zinc Important for immune
functioning and regulating
hormones, which impact mood
Poultry, red meat,
beans and fortified cereals
2-5 mg daily
Magnesium Has a calming effect
on children with behavioural issues
Green leafy vegetables, nuts,
beans and whole-grain cereals
80-130mg daily
Vitamin D Plays an important
role in the immune system functioning,
attention span, regulation of
behavior and overall brain function
Sunlight, wild salmon,
fortified cereals and fortified dairy,
such as KABRITA Toddler Formula"
400IU daily
B complex vitamins This group of vitamins is essential to
proper nervous system development,
which plays a huge role in toddler
behavior and mood
Eating a wide variety of grains,
fortified cereals, dark leafy
vegetables, chicken
and fish. KABRITA Toddler Formula
contains the full spectrum
of B vitamins"
More important than
how much is how
many. Try to ensure
your toddler gets a full
spectrum of
B complex vitamins
Essential Fatty Acids EFAs are necessary for optimal
brain function because they support
the cellular structure
supplemented with DHA, such as
KABRITA Toddler Formula"
Varies depending on child,
but I usually prescribe a
supplement containing
approximately 320mg of EPA
and 200mg of DHA

Life with a toddler will always be a bit of a rollercoaster. But by paying attention to what we’re putting on their plates, we can help their little brains and bodies deal with the ups and downs of growing up.

Dr. Bartolini is a Naturopathic doctor with clinic locations in Oakville and Toronto. For more information, please visit