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Feeding your toddler to support their immune system

Your toddler’s immune system is still developing and it will continue to develop during the first 3 years. Whilst an efficient immune system often works unnoticed, fighting off germs and infection before your toddler’s body has chance to develop any symptoms, an occasional cold or bug is unavoidable. In fact, experiencing illness is one of the ways your toddler’s immune system becomes stronger.

These first few years are an important time, when your toddler’s immune system will learn how to fight common illnesses. You can give your toddler’s immune system a helping hand by feeding them a healthy, balanced diet full of vitamins, minerals and prebiotics. 

This article looks at which particular nutrients have an important role in the immune system and gives you examples of foods that are good sources for you to include in your toddler’s diet.

The first few years of a child’s life are very important to the development of their immune system. As your baby becomes a toddler, they – and you – will be out and about much more, going to nursery or toddler groups, making new friends and playing outside – all of which means exposure to new kinds of germs.

This is perfectly natural and will help their immune system develop. As a parent, you can help support your toddler’s developing immune system by feeding them a healthy, balanced diet which includes foods that contain nutrients such as iron and vitamins, as well as prebiotics.

Prebiotic oligosaccharides (prebiotics)

Prebiotics help the friendly bacteria naturally present in your toddler’s tummy to thrive.A healthy level of these good bacteria helps to fight off potentially harmful ones, thereby supporting your toddler’s immune system. Prebiotics are naturally present in some foods, such as:

  • Prebiotic-fortified dairy such as some yogurt
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Chicory
  • Garlic
  • Artichokes

For toddlers after 1 year, some growing up milks also contain prebiotics and can complement a balanced diet.


Iron is important for the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body, making it essential for healthy development. It can also affect the immune system; toddlers who don’t regularly get enough iron could have a reduced immune function, which in turn could make them less resistant to infection. It can be surprisingly hard to ensure your toddler regularly gets enough iron.

Good sources of iron include:

  • Meat (especially red meat)
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit such as dried apricots
  • Whole grains such as brown rice
  • Fortified Growing Up milks
  • Fortified cereals
  • Soybean flour
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as watercress and curly kale


Zinc can be found in all of the body’s tissue and it has a number of important functions. Not only does it aid the creation of new cells and the enzymes needed to support your toddler’s immune system, but it also helps our bodies to heal wounds. You can find zinc in a variety of toddler-friendly foods, such as:

  • Meat
  • Shellfish
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Bread
  • Cereal products such as wheatgerm


Vitamin D

Vitamin D is not only important for healthy bones and teeth; it also plays a role in supporting your toddler’s immune system. Most of our vitamin D comes from sunlight on our skin, as the vitamin forms under the skin in reaction to sunlight. However, consult your doctor to make sure if your toddler gets enough vitamin D for the rapid development of his/her bones and teeth. It’s recommended that toddlers get 7ug of vitamin D a day from their diet.

Sources of vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel)
  • Eggs
  • Fortified margarine
  • Fortified cereals

However, because so few foods contain an adequate amount of vitamin D, it is recommended that toddlers receive vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps protect cells and keeps your toddler healthy, and it’s needed by white blood cells to fight infection. It helps your toddler’s skin to heal itself after any scrapes or grazes and also helps their body absorb iron. It’s a good idea to include the following vitamin C-rich foods in your toddler’s diet:

  • Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Fortified cereals

Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps support your toddler’s immune system against infection because it is involved in the generation of antibody responses and the function of immune cells. It helps to maintain your toddler’s healthy skin and any surface tissues that excrete mucus, such as the nose and the intestines. Your toddler can get vitamin A from:

  • Dairy such as cheese, milk and yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Oily fish (such as mackerel)
  • Fortified margarine
  • Fortified cereals

While a healthy, varied diet containing a range of these foods should give your toddler’s immune system what it needs, it can be difficult to make sure your toddler is getting enough, especially if they’re going through a fussy phase.

Van der Aa L.B. an al, Effect of a new synbiotic mixture on atopic dermatitis in infants: a randomized-controlled trial. 2010. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 40, 795–804

Further Reading

Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby and is highly recommended as breast milk contains the essential nutrients, antibodies and prebiotics your baby needs.

Cognitive skill development in children involves the progressive building of learning skills, such as attention, memory and thinking.

Important notice

By clicking on the "Continue" button, you can learn more about infant nutrition. If you choose to continue, you agree that Danone is supplying this information at your individual request for information purposes.

Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants: it is best adapted to their specific needs. A healthy and balanced diet of the mother is important for the preparation and continuation of breastfeeding. Mixed breastfeeding can interfere with breastfeeding and reduce milk production. It’s hard to reverse the choice of not breastfeeding. If an infant formula is used for a non-breastfed baby, it is important to carefully observe the instructions for preparation and use and to follow the advice of the medical profession. Incorrect use could pose a risk to the child’s health. Socio-economic implications must be considered in the use of infant formula. After 6 months, in addition to breastmilk, water is the only essential drink. Do not hesitate to consult your health care professional if you need advice on feeding your baby.