mom feeding toddler

Meeting the Nutritional Needs of Toddlers and Kids

Did you know the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has been expanded to include babies and toddlers for the first time? Here’s a look at the new focus on nutrition at all life stages, including the most important nutrients for toddlers and kids and key opportunities in fortification.


Opportunities to improve nutrition in children include:

  • Fortifying products with micronutrients, like a variety of vitamins
  • Adding more protein to foods and beverages
  • Making products with different bioactives

Dietary Guidelines’ New Focus on Life Stage Nutrition

One of the most important changes to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the inclusion of dietary recommendations for every life stage, from infancy to older adulthood.1 This new focus on healthy eating across the lifespan is based on science that shows this approach promotes meeting nutrient needs, achieving a healthy body weight, and reducing the risk of chronic disease. 

Check out our Concept Lookbook that looks at the first stages of life from prenatal to adolescence. 

How Toddlers and Kids are Meeting Nutritional Needs

The Dietary Guidelines recognize that nutrition shapes health from the very beginning, so it’s important to start with the right choices. In early life, as babies shift from breast milk and formula to foods, parents tend to reach for products that deliver health and convenience. This includes fruit and vegetable purees, yogurts, hot cereals, snack crackers, cereal bars, and entrée meals—often fortified and formulated for toddlers.

As toddlers become kids, they begin to share the foods and eating patterns of their parents. According to the Dietary Guidelines, this should be a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy or fortified soy alternatives, and protein foods—but many fall short. The Dietary Guidelines report a Healthy Eating Index score of only 61 out of 100 for children ages 2 to 4 which continues to decline through adolescence, indicating a lack of alignment with the guidelines early on.

Important Nutrients for Toddlers and Kids

In examining the special nutrition needs of toddlers and kids, the Dietary Guidelines report that foods rich in iron and zinc are especially important for toddlers, while calcium and vitamin D become priorities in later childhood as bone mass increases. Furthermore, as children get older, their consumption of vegetables, fruits, and dairy decreases, leaving them vulnerable to additional deficiencies. Although total grain intake is high, much of this is from refined grains (such as pasta, bread, chips, crackers, and cookies), rather than whole grains.

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mom and toddler in store

Fortification Opportunities to Improve Nutrition

These findings indicate an important opportunity for food and beverage companies to fortify products to improve the nutrient intakes of toddlers and kids. Many parents are also strongly interested in this. Mintel reports that in North America, for about one in three parents, the most desired attributes in baby or toddler food after fruits and vegetables are vitamins and minerals (at 35%) and protein (31%).2


When purchasing toddler or baby drinks, 53% of parents say the presence of vitamins and minerals is an important factor,3 while 19% say added vitamins and minerals is very important for kids’ snacks.4 In looking at foods and beverages targeting kids, we see not only nutrients of concern but also nutrients associated with health benefits, such as vitamin C and immunity. Between January 2017 and March 2021, the leading micronutrients in U.S. new product launches for kids were:5

  • Vitamin C (62%)
  • Vitamin D (57%)
  • Calcium (55%)
  • Vitamin B3 (48%)
  • Vitamin B1 (48%)
  • Iron (47%)
  • Vitamin B2 (44%)
  • Vitamin E (44%)
  • Vitamin A (44%)
  • Vitamin B9 (44%)


Protein fortification is another sought-after nutrition benefit, with 50% of parents indicating protein is an important factor when purchasing toddler or baby food.6 When it comes to choosing snacks for their kids, high protein is very important to 24% of parents.7 Dairy and dairy alternatives for toddlers and kids is another category that can benefit from added protein.


Bioactive ingredients that offer certain health benefits also appeal to parents. Some of the most popular for use in products for young children are those that also occur in breast milk. This includes the protein lactoferrin to support iron levels and MFGM (milk fat globule membrane) to support cognitive development. While brain health claims continue to trend in early nutrition products, COVID has brought immune health to the forefront.

family with veggies

A Healthy Start

Adding vitamins, minerals, protein, or bioactive ingredients to products positioned for toddlers and kids are all effective ways to support a healthy start in life. Companies can also appeal to parents by addressing the trends in natural and organic ingredients, as well as using brand messaging that explains the roles of the ingredients in a child’s development.

Glanbia Nutritionals understands the importance of healthy nutrition and offers innovative ingredients to meet today’s trends. From proteins and custom premix solutions to cutting-edge bioactive ingredient, such as NeoShieldTM to support toddlers and children, we’ve got you covered. Contact us to learn more about fortification options for your products.

Frequently Asked Questions

Healthy snacks for toddlers are foods that are convenient, easy to eat, often mild in taste, and meet the nutritional needs of toddlers. According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a toddler’s diet should be rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy or fortified soy alternatives, and protein foods—and that includes snacks.

Since iron and zinc are especially important at this stage of life, healthy snacks for toddlers, as well as toddler meals, might be fortified with these and other essential nutrients. Today’s most popular healthy snacks for toddlers include fruit and vegetable purees, yogurts, cereals, cereal bars, and snack crackers.

While all the essential nutrients are important for toddlers, some of the most important nutrients for toddlers’ growth and development are calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones and teeth, and iron and DHA for proper brain development. Adequate amounts of protein and B vitamins are also critical at this stage. Fortified cereals and toddler milks can help ensure these early-life nutrition needs are met.

For adolescents, protein continues to be a priority nutrient to support their growing bodies, although fiber-rich carbohydrate foods should provide the bulk of their daily energy. Iron and zinc needs are higher at this stage, while sufficient calcium and vitamin D are essential to building bone density that will support healthy bones throughout adulthood. Besides nutrition for growing bodies, there are also certain nutrients to support growing minds—such as choline and omega-3s.


1. USDA & HHS. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.
2-3. Mintel. Baby Food & Drinks (incl. Impact of COVID 19) – US. April 2020.
4. The Hartman Group. Snacking: Emerging, Evolving and Disrupted. October 2020.
5. Mintel. Product launches for toddlers/kids in US since 2017.
6. Mintel. Baby Food & Drinks (incl. Impact of COVID 19) – US.  April 2020. 
7. The Hartman Group. Snacking: Emerging, Evolving and Disrupted. October 2020.

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