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What are your child's 'butterfly' years?

Why ages 5-15 are critical for nutrition and what you can do about it
I have found managing the most complex business problem easier than negotiating with my two teenagers.

It is almost impossible to get them to eat a proper breakfast and ensure they get the appropriate nutrition necessary for their transformative stage of life.

We're all familiar with the phrase 'you are what you eat', but it would perhaps be more accurate to say, 'you are what you ate as a child'.

Yet finding a balance between allowing them to develop into individuals who start to make their own choices, and prioritizing their nutritional and developmental needs is crucial. This holds especially true during these years that will shape the rest of their life.

What exactly are the 'Transformative' years?

We're all familiar with the phrase 'you are what you eat', but it would perhaps be more accurate to say, 'you are what you ate as a child'.

Our findings confirm what we already suspected – the ages of five through to 15 are also critical years for development. We describe this period as the 'Transformative 10' years. As your child turns five they are on the road to becoming a grown-up, and the next 10 years are nothing short of life forming.

Ages five to nine are particularly important when it comes to brain formation, and from 10 to 15, the amount of growth and change that will be taking place in your child's body is significant. Starting in early infancy, habits are being formed as your child gets more say in what and when they eat – a process that continues throughout this 10-year period.


There is extensive growth of bone and muscles (45% of your child's entire bone mass develops during the Transformative 10), and the agility, balance, and motor skills they develop help both their sporting prowess and accomplishment of day-to-day tasks.

By the time your child reaches age six, their brain will have reached 90% of its adult size, while the years that follow – up to age 15 – are the most important period for key developments in learning, emotion, and social interaction.

Ensuring kids reach their full potential

Unfortunately, despite all the knowledge and insight at our disposal, many young people around the world are getting nowhere near the standard of nutrition that they need or deserve. For example, in the U.S., a 2021 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only about 7% of adolescents meet fruit intake recommendations, and only 2% meet vegetable intake recommendations.

father with daughter

We would like to see this change as quickly as possible. Through our Nestlé for Healthier Kids initiative, we've pledged to reach 50 million children across the globe by 2030. This is through a combination of nutrition education and foods and beverages designed to be more nutritious, for example with more vegetables, vitamins and minerals, and less salt and sugar.

Top tips for your child's brain, body & behavior development

Here are some top tips on how you can support your child's brain, body and behavioral development throughout the 'Transformative 10'.


For optimal cognitive development, children need adequate nutrition and a stimulating environment, which can double as parent-child bonding. Solve puzzles together. Read aloud. Play engaging games! In tandem, ensure that crucial nutrients that contribute to brain development and cognition like iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and folate make their way into your child’s diet. They can be found in healthy fats like fish and some grains. This sets your child up for success in school and into adulthood, as their brain reaches maturation.

Some inspiration

  • Powdered milk such as Dancow Fortigrow in Indonesia and Nespray Forti Grow in China are a source of calcium and DHA
playing together


As puberty arrives and your child continues to grow rapidly (and empty the fridge just as quickly!), the combination of a balanced diet and physical activity is important. However, neither should feel like a chore. Let your child find out what is fun for them, whether that's dancing, running, martial arts, roller skating, or simply taking walks. Such activities will not only help them to cultivate healthy bone and joint development, but also build habits that lower the risk of obesity, heart disease, and emotional health difficulties later in life. Similarly, their food intake should refuel, energize, and help build their bodies. Some key nutrients to keep in mind are calcium, vitamin D, and protein.

Some inspiration

  • Milo products, including the latest plant-based Milo option in Australia and New Zealand that replaces milk powder with soy protein and oat flour.
  • In Mexico, Nutririndes and in the Philippines, Bear Brand also offer fortified packs rich in vitamin D, iron, and calcium.
kids playing outside


Each developmental stage expands your child's independence. Decisions about what they eat is no different. As they gain greater autonomy over their plates, provide them with culinary experiences that can inform their choices. How? Include them in the kitchen! Preparing dishes makes children more likely to try new foods and even eat vegetables/or 'unliked' foods. Younger children can do 'safe activities' like measuring and mixing ingredients, while older kids can take on tasks like chopping vegetables, cooking, or helping with the shopping, which can teach them how to read labels and choose different and healthier options.

Some inspiration

2021 Nine-month sales

Bringing up children is challenging – in a good way! – but if you work through these top tips with your child, you'll be on a good path to navigating the 'Transformative 10', and setting them up for a healthy, happy life in their later teenage years and on into adulthood.