Giving Babies and Toddlers a Healthy, Nutritious Start
In 2020, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued their first-ever dietary guidance specific to infants and toddlers.
The USDA emphasizes that the first two years of life are critical for growth and development (including the brain), and early dietary patterns may influence lifelong eating patterns and health.
The main recommendations for infants from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 are:
*Human milk exclusively for the first six months. Iron and vitamin D supplements may be necessary.
*If human milk isn’t an option, use iron-fortified commercial infant formula.
The Magic Window of Four to Six Months
Begin to offer supplemental foods no earlier than four but before six months of age, when baby is most likely developmentally ready to try new foods. Baby will also develop preferences for flavors and textures, but may reject new food experiences if you wait too long. Thus, the “magic window.”
A special recommendation for infants with severe eczema or egg allergy is to expose them to peanut-containing foods during the magic window period to reduce the risk of developing potentially life-threatening peanut allergies.
Foods to Introduce First
It’s a good idea to expose babies to iron and zinc-rich foods during this period, as well as a variety of protein-rich foods, grains beyond mere rice cereal, and fruits and veggies. While you can introduce dairy such as cheeses and yogurts during the magic window, you shouldn’t give whole cow milk nor 100% juice to infants before age one. Also off-limits during this time is raw honey, as it can be fatal.
Offer baby a variety of healthy foods, remembering it may take several tries before an infant begins to like new tastes.
Toddler Eating Guidelines
As baby grows, the textures of food offered can become more complex and the variety of diet greatly expanded. While 60% of toddlers get the fruit requirement met through fruit or 100% juice, 90% don’t get enough veggies. The majority of grains in toddlers’ diets are less healthy types, not whole grains.
Tips to Improve Toddler Diets:
*Limit processed foods such as cereal, breads or pastries, hot dogs or lunchmeats.
*Offer fruit more often than juice.
The Best Approach
It’s key to learn baby’s hunger or full cues. Overfeeding or waiting until baby is too hungry are not good ideas. Offer toddlers a variety of healthy choices, but don’t force eating. Expand food horizons for little ones beyond their favorites, or they may not find new faves or receive ample nutrients.
Finally, develop a healthy diet yourself and model positive eating habits for kids of all ages.