Top Ten Nutrients of Focus for Kids

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Can you believe that school is already back in session for huge parts of the country?

If you want to help kids to fare better in school this year, pay attention to nutrition. Research shows that kids that eat breakfast have better academic performance than students that don’t. What they choose for meals and snacks makes a difference too. Is there ever a time when Pop-tarts, doughnuts, or energy drinks are appropriate?

Find out in our new series: Let's Get Kids Healthy!

Today's installment features the top 10 nutrients of focus for kids -- which foods contain them, what roles they play in the body, and more!

Top 10 Nutrients of Focus for Kids:

  1. Protein is key for growth, strength, and immunity as well as appetite management. Scrambled or hard-cooked eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or peanut butter are all kid favorites.
  2. Carbohydrates provide energy for the brain & body, plus fiber for digestive health. Cook with whole grain bread & cereals, pasta, brown rice, barley, bulgur, farro, quinoa, fruits, beans, and lentils. Low-fat dairy products also provide carbohydrates.
  3. Healthy fats are needed for energy, fat-soluble vitamin transport, and even shock absorption. Add sliced avocado to toast or nuts and seeds to breakfast cereal. Use corn, olive, or canola oil for cooking.
  4. Iron is vital to oxygen transport in the blood and normal immunity. Include iron-fortified cold or hot cereal or toast. Add cooked spinach to eggs.
  5. Calcium is necessary for strong bones & teeth, along with proper blood pressure control. Use low-fat milk on cereal or yogurt and fruit. String cheese and whole grain crackers are also convenient sources of calcium.
  6. Vitamin D is needed for normal calcium absorption, along with the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Look for fortified dairy products and non-dairy products. Encourage outside play for casual sun exposure and be sure to be aware of the risks of UV exposure as well.
  7. Zinc is important for growth, immunity, sexual maturity, skin integrity, and wound healing. Try chopped nuts in cereal or peanut butter on whole-grain toast. Make trail mix using pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
  8. Potassium is necessary to lower blood pressure and for muscle contraction. Choose seasonal fruit like citrus fruit, melon, peaches, kiwi or bananas at breakfast.
  9. Vitamin C is key for wound healing, a healthy immune system, and iron absorption. Encourage kids to eat citrus fruit, kiwi, melon, strawberries, peppers, spinach, or tomatoes.
  10. Water is vital to digestion, along with the transport & absorption of nutrients. It prevents dehydration, maintains blood pressure, & regulates body temperature. Kids should aim for 6-8 (eight ounce) cups of water per day. Let kids choose a favorite water bottle to bring to school, or try infusing water with fresh fruits and vegetables.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Free Handout: Top 10 Nutrients for Kids


  1. Adolphus K, Lawton CL, Dye L. Associations Between Habitual School-Day Breakfast Consumption Frequency and Academic Performance in British Adolescents. Front Public Health. 2019 Nov 20;7:283. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2019.00283. PMID: 31824903; PMCID: PMC6879673.
  2. Qiu M, Zhang Y, Long Z, He Y. Effect of Protein-Rich Breakfast on Subsequent Energy Intake and Subjective Appetite in Children and Adolescents: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2021 Aug 18;13(8):2840. doi: 10.3390/nu13082840. PMID: 34445000; PMCID: PMC8399074.
  3. Haschka D, Hoffmann A, Weiss G. Iron in immune cell function and host defense. Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2021 Jul;115:27-36. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2020.12.005. Epub 2020 Dec 30. PMID: 33386235.
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