20 Quick Infant & Toddler Nutrition Recommendations
Taking care of a little human can be overwhelming! In addition to feeding your child, you also need to know about safety, milestones and development, sleep, car seats, appropriate toys and activities, and how to use all of those infant and toddler apparatuses! As a parent, you can’t be an expert in all of these areas and realistically, there are going to be pieces of information that get lost in the cracks. To bring you up to speed on infant and toddler nutrition specifically, here are 20 quick facts to be familiar with:
1. Infants are to have breastmilk and/or infant formula exclusively for the first 4-6 months and should be fed on demand.
2. When introducing solids, make high-iron foods such as meat a priority. Infants over 6 months old have very high iron needs so this is a nutrient of concern.
3. If using pureed baby foods, you want to move away from them by 9 months of age at the latest; learning to chew is important.
4. Cut round and tube-shaped foods (grapes, cherry tomatoes, string cheese, baby carrots, etc.) lengthwise as round shapes are a choking hazard. This should be done until age 4.
5. Infants and toddlers should be eating with the family. If you’re having a separate mealtime than your child, you are doing them a disservice. Children learn by watching.
6. Have your baby practice with an open cup as soon as possible as it’s great for promoting jaw development. An infant as young as six months can start practicing with a small one. The ezpz tiny cup is often recommended by both dietitians and occupational therapists.
7. Many products marketed for babies and toddlers, such as “baby yogurt” have added sugar, despite this going against the recommendation of not providing any added sugar until the age of two. These products are often very pricey as well. Stick with the basics and you can add pureed or other texture-appropriate fruit to plain yogurt to give it flavor.
8. It’s unsafe to provide honey until 12 months of age. Honey can contain the bacteria that causes infant botulism.
9. Recommendations have changed quite a bit over the years, and it is actually now recommended to provide highly allergenic foods as early as possible. The most common food allergies in the US are milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and now sesame seeds.
10. Don’t serve too much milk! Talk to your pediatrician and/or dietitian, but generally toddlers shouldn’t be drinking more than 16-24oz of milk per day. Some parents find this difficult during the transition from formula or breastmilk to cows milk, but it is important, as too much milk can cause several issues including iron-deficiency anemia.
11. Most toddlers don’t eat great at breakfast, lunch and dinner - this does not need to be the goal! If your child is eating a fair amount at two out of the three meals, call it a win. If they ate very little at a meal and you’re concerned about them being hungry or not getting enough, provide a snack a little later.
12. Whole milk is recommended for children under the age of two for a variety of reasons. Milk alternatives such as soy, oat, and almond milk are lower in Calories and fat, which is not ideal for this age group. Talk with your pediatrician and/or dietitian if you are considering these options instead to make sure nutrient needs are met in other ways.
13. Infants and children under the age of 2 have higher fat needs compared to adults as it helps with brain development. They shouldn’t be on a diet of only Kix and pasta! You can provide higher fat foods like dark meat chicken, whole milk, nut butters (thinly spread to avoid choking), full-fat yogurt, salmon, oils and cream sauces.
14. Foods such as nuts, hard candies, taffy, gum, popcorn, and globs of peanut butter are choking hazards and should be avoided until 4 years of age.
15. As a parent, your job is to decide what, when and where meals are provided. Your child’s job is to decide if they eat it and how much. No force feeding! This is called the “Division of Responsibility” created by Ellyn Satter, a dietitian and therapist.
16. Fruit juice, even 100% juice with no added sugar, should not be given to infants under 12 months. If providing juice, it should be limited to 4 oz for children ages 1-3 and 4-6 oz for children ages 4-5.
17. Be a good role model at the dinner table. You can’t expect your child to eat vegetables if you don’t!
18. Provide as much variety as you can. It is important to introduce infants and young toddlers to as many flavors as possible. If they don’t take it right away, keep introducing it anyway. It can sometimes take 20+ exposures before a child will eat a food.
19. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends getting rid of the bottle before 18 months of age. Start introducing a straw cup and open cup as early as possible so this transition is less difficult.
20. Be as neutral as possible at mealtime. Don’t make comments such as “you haven’t touched your peas,” “I thought you liked strawberries,” or “three more bites.” There shouldn’t be bribes or punishments involved around mealtime. If mealtimes become a place of stress, this is only going to make things worse.