Nutritional supplements may be important on cognition but the evidence is heterogeneous. This meta-analysis aimed (1) to determine whether nutritional supplements provided to pregnant women or young children could improve cognitive development of children in developing countries, and (2) to explore how supplementation characteristics could improve children’s cognitive outcomes. This meta-analysis examined nutritional supplementation studies in 9 electronic databases and 13 specialist websites. Experimental studies were included if they were published from 1992 to 2016, were conducted in developing countries, had nutritional supplementation for pregnant women or children aged ≤8, and reported effect sizes on cognitive outcomes. Interventions with confounded components, such as stimulation and parenting, were excluded. 67 interventions (48 studies) for 29814 children from 20 developing countries were evaluated. Childhood nutritional supplementation could improve children’s cognitive development (d 0.08, 95% CI 0.03–0.13) and those with ≥5 nutrients was particularly beneficial (0.15, 0.08–0.22). Antenatal supplementation did not improve cognitive development (0.02, -0.01 to 0.06) except for those implemented in the first trimester (0.15, 0.03–0.28). In conclusion, childhood nutritional supplementation was beneficial to cognitive development but could be optimised by providing multiple nutrients; antenatal supplementation should target pregnancy women in the first trimester for better cognitive benefits. Copyright © 2017 The Author(s).