Toddler Nutrition 101- How Nutrition Affects Behaviour

By Dr. Suzanne Bartolini

for :


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.

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.

Best sources
How much?

Why: Important for immune functioning and regulating hormones, which impact mood
Best sources: Poultry, red meat, beans and fortified cereals
How much: 2-5 mg daily

Why: Has a calming effect on children with behavioural issues
Best sources: Green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans and whole-grain cereals
How much: 80-130mg daily

Vitamin D
Why: Plays an important role in the immune system functioning, attention span, regulation of behavior and overall brain function
Best sources: Sunlight, wild salmon, fortified cereals and fortified dairy, such as Kabrita Toddler Formula
How much: 400IU daily

B complex vitamins
Why: This group of vitamins is essential to proper nervous system development, which plays a huge role in toddler behavior and mood
Best sources: Eating a wide variety of grains,fortified cereals, dark leafy vegetables, chicken and fish. Kabrita Toddler Formula contains the full spectrum of B vitamins
How much: More important than how much is how many. Try to ensure your toddler gets a full spectrum of B complex vitamins

Essential Fatty Acids
Why: EFAs are necessary for optimal brain function because they support the cellular structure
Sources: foods supplemented with DHA, such as Kabrita Toddler Formula
How much: 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. 416.407.0845


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