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A Guide To The Brain Building Nutrients Your Toddler Needs

Everyone wants to have a smart toddler, but that largely depends on heredity. Your partner is clearly a genius for picking you to be her gene-pool, but you still might want a little insurance to make sure your kid’s brain is happy, healthy, and as sharp as your lady’s. Luckily, there are foods you can feed your kid to help their brain grow.

Why It’s Important

Toddlerhood is a time when you really have to start concentrating on a kid’s nutrition. There a couple of reasons for that. First, they are no longer beholden to the boob or bottle for nutrition. Second, they’ve started to discover that they’re little autonomous beings who can have opinions about stuff they put in their face. Finally, they’ve learned to say no. Loudly.

All of that means getting good foods inside them is a challenge. But given that the brain is a hungry beast, and the first organ to get the nutrients being pumped into the body, it’s important to offer the foods that help it develop. But what if they come up with clever ways to refuse that food? Those are the little paradoxes that you have to deal with as a parent.

Brain Foods

If you did any research on what your partner should have been eating during pregnancy, then you’ll recognize some usual suspects. If not, then just remember that Kevin Spacey is Keyser Söze.


The heavy hitters of toddler brain development. These fatty acids are crucial to building the physical networks that support the brain signals that fire every time they learn something new. Like that awesome swear word you just said.

Fish is high in omega-3s, but salmon is definitely the go-to for the highest concentration of it. You can prep that fish in a lot of ways: salmon salad sandwiches, or maybe salmon patties for melts and burgers. Of course if worse comes to worse, you can always offer your kid crunchy frozen fish sticks. (Pro tip: Heat them up.)


This nutrient also helps your kid build brain cells. More importantly, it’s critical in helping them build memory and a healthy connection between the brain and the body.

Eggs are an amazing source of choline. And luckily they can be prepared in a bazillion ways — although you’re probably going to do more scrambling than soft-boiling. The big bonus for eggs is that they also contain protein, which is also critical in helping the brain (and the entire body) grow.

Complex Carbohydrates

Carbs break down into glucose, and that glucose is used for energy to power your kid’s brain. Having a robust complex carb in their diet makes sense because a thought engine can’t run without fuel.

Great sources include good, quick meals like oatmeal. Or if your kid isn’t down with that, you can choose to make their crust-free sandwiches with whole-grain bread.

Folate And Vitamins

The term “vitamins” is a big tent under which some very important nutrients reside. It’s less important to be specific about which does what than it is to know which foods are packed with them. Most of the vitamins kids need, along with folate, help ensure that the brain not only grows healthy but also stays healthy later in life.

Greens are a great place to get vitamins, but they’re also the hardest to get into your kid’s mouth. That said, they are also the easiest to hide. Blend spinach into pancake mix or hide it in smoothies. Honestly, they’ll never know unless they wander in while you’re making it. If that happens, it’s improv time!


Considering your kid is doing all this great work building a shiny new brain, you’ll want to make sure it stays shiny. Enter antioxidants. They protect your toddler’s brain from the ravages of life that are already affecting them. Sorry, kid.

The excellent news is that foods they already love are packed with antioxidants, like berries. Just go with the real thing rather than a jar of processed jam. Unless it’s a Phish jam. Which doesn’t have antioxidants, but will totally alter their mind, man.