Up until now, dietary recommendations from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HSS) have only included children older than two years old. But for the first time, the 2020 to 2025 nutrition guidelines (which were just released in December of 2020) now have an entire chapter on how to take care of infants and toddlers younger than two years old. This is great news for parents and childcare takers everywhere!
The New Guidelines
These days, nutrition advice isn’t necessarily hard to come by. However, the CDC estimates that in the US, as much as 18 percent of children age two and up are obese, which is quite alarming and signals just how important it is that our kids get off to a healthy start as early as possible. For those caring for young children, these new recommendations could potentially help to offset health complications down the line.
According to the new nutrition guidelines, infants should exclusively consume human milk for the first six months, along with supplemental vitamin D. When breast milk isn’t available, an iron-fortified infant formula should replace it. Baby formula is fortified with vitamin D, but for those taking breast milk, a vitamin D supplement of at least 400 IU may be needed (speak to your healthcare provider about available options).
Around six months (but not before four months), you can start to introduce your little one to other nutrient-dense foods, like pureed fruits and veggies. The USDA also suggests, however, that foods rich in nutrients like zinc, choline, iron, and polyunsaturated fatty acids should also be introduced into their diets. Some of these foods include eggs, poultry, and other meats.
As for the sweet stuff, it’s (perhaps unsurprisingly) emphasized that added sugar should be avoided for the first two years of life. This includes sugars from natural sources like honey and maple syrup.
A few more interesting points found in the guidelines are worth sharing. The USDA now recommends that we start introducing our little ones to typical food allergens, which they say could help to prevent the development of allergies later on. In fact, the guidelines specifically say that “introducing peanut-containing foods in the first year reduces the risk that an infant will develop a food allergy to peanuts.” Other allergenic foods included on the list are shellfish, regular fish, tree nuts, cow’s milk, wheat, and soy. Of course, it’s safest to introduce these foods in moderate amounts and to monitor how your child reacts to them.
Another interesting guideline came in response to our increased consumption of alternative milk products. While many people are veering away from cow’s milk in favor of options like oat milk, almond milk, and coconut milk, the USDA suggests that these shouldn’t be considered adequate nutritional sources for children younger than 12 months old. According to the new guidelines, these milk alternatives simply do not compare in nutrient content to cow’s milk or human breast milk. After a baby turns 12 months, you can introduce unsweetened plant-based milks into their diets, but they should still not replace cow’s milk as they will not help children meet their nutritional needs.
For more on what your infant or toddler needs in the way of nutrients, check out the full guidelines. We hope this information helps you make informed, healthy decisions for your little one!