It’s nothing new that from birth to age 2 proper nutrition is critical for growth and development. During the early years, it also sets the stage for establishing healthy dietary patterns critical for proper brain development and growth. The DGA’s or Dietary Guidelines for Americans is updated every 5 years to provide nutrition guidance through the lifespan. They have valuable, easy-to-read, and understandable suggestions for achieving optimal nutrition. Current recommendations show toddlers are eating the recommended amounts of fruit, but to no surprise falling short on vegetables. Some of the fruit consumed, if not 100% fruit juice, contributes added sugars to their diet. They are consuming grains, but not enough whole grains. A whole grain is going to provide all three parts of the grain, contributing important vitamins and minerals needed for growth and development. Other refined grains could have additional sodium, sugar, and if a sweet treat saturated fat, which does not help meet nutrition goals. At this time, this age group is consuming adequate dairy and protein. With protein, we want to keep in mind those deli meats for excess sodium and processed meats for saturated fats, which is what leads to unhealthy hearts and sodium that contributes to high blood pressure. As they move out of the toddler stage recommendations show a lack of activity and with food selections being made influenced by peer pressure and surroundings those poorer choices can lead to overweight and obesity at this stage in life and put more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease later in life.
During the first year, it’s recommended iron-fortified infant formula or breastmilk. Around 6 months some visual cues to be able to go to the next step are infants have better control of their head and neck, they can sit up alone or with some support, bring objects to their mouth, try to grasp small objects such as toys or foods and swallowing food instead of pushing it back out. Which is when complementary foods can be introduced. As you build one new food at a time, and some will require multiple tries the key is to build up to a variety of foods that will provide exposure to foods, textures, and flavors, but also build on a foundation that is nutrient rich. Vegetables and fruits that have potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C should be a focus, but a variety of colors is important as different colors provide different vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A is going to come from red/orange and some green such as leafy greens. Vitamin C is going to come from yellow/orange and some green vegetables such as peppers and broccoli, potassium is going to come from bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, and spinach.
Grains to focus including iron-fortified cereal–oat, barley, multigrain, and rice and, focus on more whole over refined grains. For protein sources meats, poultry, eggs, and beans in the appropriate textures should be added when ready. Last, but not least dairy, yogurt, and cheese can also be offered before age 1.
As children grow from age 2 through 18 the dietary habits continue to build, and chronic disease prevention is key. Balanced eating along with adequate physical activity helps prevent overweight and obesity. To help with growth and development preschool-age children should be involved in active play for at least 3 hours a day. After this age, at least one hour of physical activity is the daily goal. Another aspect of nutrition for healthy futures is being mindful of added sugars in packaged snacks and juices. Natural sugar is going to occur in fruit and milk. Gaining fruit sources from actual fruit over juice increases fiber intake, however, if choosing juice make sure it’s 100% fruit juice. Be sure to check out food labels for packaged snacks and processed meats are higher amounts of sodium and fat which affects heart health.
To learn more about nutrition guidelines for any age be sure to check out The Dietary Guidelines for Americans at: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/