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Food Tips for Babies and Toddlers

By Dr. Kate Crandley, Tidewater Children's Associates

New U.S. dietary guidelines include babies and toddlers for the first time and recommend against giving them any food or drinks with added sugar.

The guidelines, issued in December 2020, recommend that sugar be avoided at other ages, too, because of its strong link to childhood obesity and chronic health problems.

At the most, children 2 and older should consume less than 10% of calories a day of added sugars.

Added sugars are used in processed foods and beverages to sweeten them, and differ from natural sugars that are in fruits. On a food label, added sugars can include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.

More than 70% of Americans are overweight or have obesity, including 40% of children and adolescents. The rate increases throughout the childhood and teen years. Poor diet and lack of physical activity contribute to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

The recommendations also advise introducing children around 6 months of age to foods containing eggs and also products containing peanut flavoring, such as peanut butter thinned with water or breast milk and mixed with foods like cereal. That’s been shown to prevent allergies to those foods.

Here are the highlights of the updated guidelines:

  • For about the first 6 months of life, exclusively feed infants human milk. Continue using human milk as a supplement to age-appropriate foods through at least the first year of life, and longer if desired. Feed infants iron-fortified infant formula during the first year of life when human milk is unavailable.
  • Provide infants with supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth.
  • At about 6 months of age, introduce infants to nutrient-dense complementary foods, such as cereal, and mashed fruit and vegetables. Introduce infants to potentially allergenic foods, such as scrambled egg and products containing peanut flavoring, such as peanut butter thinned with warm water or breast milk and mixed in with mashed vegetables or cereal. Avoid foods with added sugars. Encourage infants and toddlers to consume a variety of foods from all food groups, including those rich in iron and zinc, especially for infants fed human milk.
  • From 12 months through adulthood, follow a healthy dietary pattern across the life span to meet nutrient needs, help achieve a healthy body weight, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Here are core foods that children (and adults!) should eat a variety of:

  • vegetables of all types.
  • beans, peas, and lentils.
  • fruits, especially whole fruit.
  • grains, at least half of which are whole grain.
  • dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives.
  • protein foods, such as lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products.
  • oils, including vegetable oils, and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.