The growth and development of the human skeleton requires an adequate supply of many different nutritional factors. Classical nutrient deficiencies are associated with stunting (e.g. energy, protein, Zn), rickets (e.g. vitamin D) and other bone abnormalities (e.g. Cu, Zn, vitamin C). In recent years there has been interest in the role nutrition may play in bone growth at intakes above those required to prevent classical deficiencies, particularly in relation to optimising peak bone mass and minimising osteoporosis risk. There is evidence to suggest that peak bone mass and later fracture risk are influenced by the pattern of growth in childhood and by nutritional exposures in utero, in infancy and during childhood and adolescence. Of the individual nutrients, particular attention has been paid to Ca, vitamin D, protein and P. There has also been interest in several food groups, particularly dairy products, fruit and vegetables and foods contributing to acid–base balance. However, it is not possible at the present time to define dietary reference values using bone health as a criterion, and the question of what type of diet constitutes the best support for optimal bone growth and development remains open. Prudent recommendations (Department of Health, 1998; World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization, 2003) are the same as those for adults, i.e. to consume a Ca intake close to the reference nutrient intake, optimise vitamin D status through adequate summer sunshine exposure (and diet supplementation where appropriate), be physically active, have a body weight in the healthy range, restrict salt intake and consume plenty of fruit and vegetables.