WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
A recent study set out to gain a better understanding of early childhood eating patterns, in addition to raising awareness of the increasing need for more robust efforts to support parents in helping their babies “build an authentic, joyful relationship with real food.” Findings from the study reveal that babies are consuming too much sugar and sodium and not enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains as they transition from infancy into toddlerhood
WHAT THIS MEANS
It’s critical that infants receive the nutrients they need to grow into strong toddlers, children, adolescents and ultimately, adults. The dietary habits established in infancy pave the way for similar dietary preferences and tendencies into childhood and adulthood. Many American infants are not adequately nourished, according to this recent study conducted by one of the country’s leading baby food makers.1
Data for the study was derived from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). NHANES studies are designed to assess the health and nutritional status of children and adults in the United States.2 NHANES survey data from 2001 through 2012 were analyzed for food and beverage consumption in babies 0-24 months of age.
The study showed from 0-6 months, infants were not introduced to any solid foods and consumed formula or breast milk. During the 6-8 month timeframe, infants’ intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains increased as they were gradually introduced to baby foods. It was during this 6-8 month window that infants had the highest consumption fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This is not surprising, since pureed baby foods largely consist of pureed fruits and vegetables. The study showed that infants transition from baby food to whole food (or from pureed foods to solid food) around nine months.
It is in this transition period that an infant’s dietary quality decreases. As infants were introduced to whole, solid foods, there was a significant increase in the amount and frequency of sweets, salty snacks and sugary beverages that they consumed. The main findings from the study are below:
- More than 60% of babies are getting fruit; half comes from 100% juice, followed by bananas and apples.
- Less than 30% of babies are getting vegetables, and the primary source is potatoes (whole/mashed); by 23 months, the primary source is potatoes in the forms of french fries and potato chips (by comparison, leafy greens make up 1% of consumption).
- Close to 30% of babies are drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (fruit drinks and soft drinks); by 23 months that increases to almost 45%.
- Almost 40% of babies are eating brownies and cookies.
- Nearly 40% of babies are eating crackers and salty snacks.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Dietary patterns established in infancy influence the likelihood that an infant will become overweight later in life. While this is not destiny, humans are creatures of habit and change only comes with great determination and diligence. This truth rings true especially for eating habits, as eating is so integral social gatherings, holidays and other celebrations. One study showed that children who became obese as early as age two (2) were more likely to be obese as adults.3 Children who eat large quantities of sweets and processed foods will carry those habits into adulthood. This study, in congruence with the growing body of research on this topic, adds to the evidence that long-term good health starts in childhood.
Parents of infants and young children should strive to expose their children to as many fruits and vegetables as possible. It is through repeated exposure to a food that a child begins to develop a palate to enjoy the food, especially if the food is initially disliked. For more information, see the recommendations and resources below.
Parents of infants and young children should strive to expose their children to as many fruits and vegetables as possible. It is through repeated exposure to a food that a child begins to develop a palate to enjoy the food, especially if the food is initially disliked.
Help establish a love for fruits and veggies in children. Here’s how…
- Kids in the Kitchen. Making meals as a team will help your child to feel involved and invested during cooking and mealtime. Cooking together also gives parents the opportunity to model healthy eating behaviors for their children by cooking nutritious meals at home and teaching children to learn to cook. Cooking with Your Kids
- Let Kids Help. Allow your child to be your helper if they’re not old enough to participate in the cooking process. Young children can wash vegetables or gather cooking supplies (spoons, bowls, etc.) until they’re old enough to peel produce, stir ingredients or mash potatoes. Top 10 Ways Kids can Help in the Kitchen
- Gardening. Planting a garden with your child will allow them to witness firsthand the amazing transformation of a tiny seed into a plant that produces edible fruits or veggies for them to enjoy! Start the process together by choosing seeds based on recipes your child enjoys. Also, check out these 5 DIY garden projects for children.
- How Much? While there are no dietary guidelines for children under 2 years, do your best to incorporate fruits and vegetables into every meal and snack your baby eats. Skip foods like crackers and cookies and feed your baby whole grains, fruits and veggies instead. The guideline for every age group is to fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal and snack, and the same is true for your infant.
- Variety. Go for new colors, consistencies and textures! Your child might be initially disinterested and unwilling to try new fruits and veggies, but repeated exposure increases the likelihood that they will come to enjoy the food with time.
- Make it Fun! Check out these kid-friendly recipes your child will love.
Video Center: Selection. Storage. Preparation.
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