The latest US dietary guidelines for 2020 to 2025 suggest feeding kids their natural sources of nutrition. It aims to eliminate any allergens from the diet and ensure the child’s micronutrient and caloric needs are met. The guidelines are released to the public on the 29th of December every year and are often updated. It uses evidence-based nutrition practices and gives caregivers a set of guidelines that they can rely on for feeding toddlers their most age-appropriate diet.
Dietary Guidelines for Babies and Toddlers
The Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) sets the standards for these guidelines and ensures that families do not end up malnourished their kids. Healthcare professionals create these benchmarks for nutrition by understanding the overall requirements of the population as a whole.
Experts have stated previously that the first 1000 days of a baby’s development are crucial and considered key milestones. The risk of developing obesity, weak bones, and chronic illnesses can be minimized or lowered by following the recommendations outlined by these organizations. It is clear that eating patterns can impact the growth and development of a young child. And research has made it easy to access all this information from one’s fingertips thanks to technology and mobile devices.
The USDA recommends parents feed their kids breast milk since it is a natural source of nutrition. Foods like vegetable purees and infant formulae should be fed to children from a cup. Where breast milk is not available, fortified milk and supplemental Vitamin D3 may be used.
Other essential nutrients like choline, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, Omega-3s, zinc, and iron should be added to the diet through foods like eggs, salmon, meats, etc. Bioavailable and nutritionally-dense meals should be included in the diet at around the age of 6 months and continued until the first two years of their lives. Sugar, honey, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners should be completely avoided and not added to the diet.
Avoid Giving Plant-Based Milk Alternatives Up to 12 Months of Age
Plant-based milk does not contain the essential animal proteins, fatty acids, and dairy compounds required for the proper nourishment and development of infants. This is why experts don’t recommend using these vegan alternatives for the first two years of children’s lives.
Soy milk, rice milk, oat milk, cashew milk, and unsweetened almond milk may be given to kids in minimal amounts after 12 months, provided the bulk of their diet consists of dairy and animal products. The nutrients in these plant-based milk aren’t bioavailable, and high phytic acid content inhibits proper nutrient absorption and assimilation.
About 20 to 25% of an infant’s calories should come from fats during the first 2 years, and this number can go up to 30% after that. Fat sources should include foods like olive oil, animal dairy, pureed avocados, and macadamia nuts. Plant-based milk beverages do not contain essential nutrients required to meet a child’s growing needs and are generally not recommended under the USDA guidelines.
Exposing Kids to Allergenic Foods
Being aware of food allergies and taking the necessary steps to avoid exposing kids to allergenic foods is crucial for parents. Children are generally allergic to:
- Tree nuts
- Pasteurized cow’s milk
- Crustacean shellfish
- Refined wheat, grains, cereals, and flours
- Feedlot eggs
Most experts suggest adding these foods in after the first two years because they can then develop a resistance to various allergies. Late exposure is not recommended according to dietary guidelines for children, and the same goes for early exposure before the age of 2 years. Complementary foods like pureed organic vegetables may be added along with these foods to help their bodies adapt to these allergens and not react negatively in the future.
Avoid Giving Foods and Beverages With Added Sugars During the Child’s First Two Years
Too much sugar in the diet can rot a baby’s teeth, while too much salt can put stress on their kidneys. This is why doctors recommend putting babies on a low-sugar diet. Carbs turn to sugar, which means avoiding processed carbs is a good idea. Use whole grains and limit their daily intake to no more than 2 to 3 ounces a day.
The rest of their diet should consist of vegetables, fruits, and animal products brought from the farm. Commercial fried fish and dairy may be added for parents who cannot procure farm-fresh meals. Nutritional guidelines for children state that too much sugar may make babies develop an aversion towards healthier foods such as unrefined whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and animal products.
Dietary Guidelines for Moms and Moms-to-Be
Most nutritionists recommend moms and moms-to-be to follow a nutritionally balanced diet. Here’s what experts suggest:
- Add a mix of healthy carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to your diet. Fruits and leafy green vegetables should be added to every meal, with fruit portions being limited to each piece. Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard are perfect options.
- Animal products require all the nutrients and essential amino acids for proper nourishment. They should be a staple as well, and healthy dietary fats should come from there. Meat, milk products, and seafood are the best options.
- For moms who have a dairy allergy, low-fat and low-lactose foods like camel milk, low-fat yogurt and cheeses, and certain legumes like pine nuts may be a good choice.
- Avoid using PUFA and refined seed oils for cooking. Using butter, tallows, and coconut or olive oils are better when prepping your meals since they lower the Omega-6 markers in your body and reduce inflammation.
- Women are recommended to take up to 800 mcg of folic acid/day if they’re pregnant or expecting.
- Pregnant and expecting moms should stick to fish with lower mercury levels when looking forward to their kids. Mercury can impair delivery and affect a child’s brain development. Anchovies are the safest options, along with wild-caught fish raised in clear waters not exposed to any industrial pollutants.
Tips for Feeding Kids as Per the Issued Dietary Guidelines
Based on the dietary guidelines for toddlers set by the USDA, here is a list of tips for feeding kids and how to ensure they grow properly:
Do not force-feed your kids if they’re not in the mood. Smaller portions but frequent meals are a lot better than giving them 2 to 3 big meals a day. Spread out your meals up to five to six times a day, and you will notice a huge difference in their appetite, mood, and overall well being
Children require B vitamins, folic acid, and high-quality animal nutrition for their proper nourishment. You can get a mix of these from foods like berries, legumes, dairy, meats, whole grains, citrus fruits, and dark leafy greens.
Avoid GMO and inorganic produce whenever possible because of pesticide and chemical contamination concerns. If you’re on a budget, stick to the least contaminated foods by looking at the dirty dozen list online.
Recommended Eating Pattern for Families With Kids
Healthy eating patterns established early on in the family can help a child stick to their diet. When a child watches a parent enjoying healthy and wholesome meals at the dinner table, he/she is likely to want to eat that and emulate them. Research shows that meal times together can impact how a child does in school, behaves, and plays a key component to their overall well being. Here is some recommended eating pattern for families with kids in accordance with nutritional guidelines for preschoolers:
Sit down for family dinners or at least evening snacks three to four times a week. This will ensure you get enough time to bond over the dinner table and interact with the kids.
Avoid alcohol and sugar intake in front of the kids. This can establish curiosity and bad habits later on. If you are a parent and not drinking in front of the kids, limit yourself to just 1 drink a day as a mom and a maximum of up to two drinks a day for dads. Pregnant and expecting mothers are not advised to drink at all.
Use a variety of colors and textures for your meals. Put some thought into your meal prep and make the meals look appealing. This will encourage children to dig in and start eating. If the food is good, but the way it’s presented is bad, they may develop an aversion towards eating it, at least at the beginning.
Avoid adding processed foods in your meals since these contain chemicals, carcinogens, and various substances that make them addictive to kids. Stick to clean, unrefined, and nutritious foods that are naturally occurring in nature and ensure optimal health and development
If you can afford to eat organic and support farmers who practise regenerative agriculture, then even better. You can still eat on a budget and ensure your meals are clean. Add eggs, meat, milk, and seafood to the diet, and you won’t run into any problems with your nutrition.
Avoid vegan diets and the use of multiple nutritional supplements without a doctor’s recommendation. Vegan diets lack the essential fatty acids and impair proper cognitive development in both kids and adults. There’s a lot of evidence backing this up by experts, which is why we’re mentioning it.
You don’t have to eat too healthily all the time. Have snacks like nuts and use cacao powder for making homemade chocolates without the added sugars. There are ways you can make delicious treats at home and let your kids enjoy them from time to time without compromising on their health. This will also encourage healthy eating habits and develop a good relationship with their nutrition and diet.
If you have a picky eater in the family who doesn’t feel like eating his/her fruits, fats, and vegetables, then the chances are that the diet you’re putting them on is not that good. Toddlers and infants know instinctively what they want to eat and when you give them proper nutrition, they will be more than happy to dig in.
Now that you’re aware of what to watch out for and how to ensure they’re getting the right kind of nutrition, you can get to work on cleaning up the overall diet. Always consult with a pediatrician or nutritionist before adding new nutritional supplements or making drastic changes to the diet. If they have food allergens that aren’t going away by reintroducing certain foods, then there could be a root problem that requires further clinical investigation. Keep these points in mind, and happy parenting!