Are our babies and toddlers eating a balanced diet?

Many parents get mixed messages and struggle with the important decision on what and how much to feed their young child every day. Early food preferences, exposure to breast milk, and timing of solid food introduction play a crucial role in developing healthy food habits in infants and toddlers.

A study in this month’s Pediatrics looked at the food trends of food and beverage consumption among Mexican American, non-Hispanic white, and non-Hispanic black infants and toddlers from 2005 to 2012, gathered from National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey data.  The researchers wanted to identify how the eating habits of these young children changed over time. 

Here’s what they found:

Negative Results

  • Nearly 60 percent of infants (0-5 months) are not breast fed
  • Up to 15 percent of infants (6-11 months) drank cow’s milk daily
  • Fifty percent of young toddlers continue to drink sweetened beverages
  • Intake of vegetables declined in infants (6-11 months) and toddlers (12-23 months)
    • Fried white potatoes were the most common vegetable eaten
    • Dark green vegetables were the least common vegetable eaten

Positive Results

  • Intakes of 100 percent fruit juice reduced in older infants and toddlers
  • Soda intake decreased among Mexican American young toddlers

Tips for Parents

Despite a few positive trends, the results from this study show that more work is needed to improve our infant and toddler eating habits.

  • Get help from your local lactation program to help mothers to continue to breast feed exclusively for their infant’s first 6 months of life
  • Remember that repeated exposure to new foods can improve your child’s taste preferences. Just because your child dislikes spinach one day, doesn’t mean they will never eat spinach again.
  • Nutrition guidelines from Women Infants and Children , Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are helpful to establish healthy eating routines, positive eating environments, and balanced food choices
  • The 2020 Edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans will include early-feeding recommendations to help guide parents of children younger than 2 years.

You might also find these guidelines from American Academy of Pediatrics helpful:

  • Exclusively breastfeed for the first six months
  • Avoid drinking cow's milk earlier than 12 months of age to prevent iron deficiency anemia
  • Consumption of complementary foods (foods other than breast milk and infant formula) should be after 6 months of age
  • Offer fruits/vegetables with every meal and snack
  • Provide non-flavored whole milk or 2 percent milk and water as beverages for children 12 months to 2 years
  • Delay juice intake until 12 months of age and avoid sweetened beverages to reduce the risk of obesity later in childhood