With today's children overfed yet still undernourished, the prevalence of childhood obesity and related chronic illnesses has experts predicting that this generation might be the first to NOT outlive its parents.
Given this startling fact, researchers analyzed National Health and Examination Survey over 10 years of food and beverage consumption data among babies 0-24 months in the U.S., from the National Health and Examination Survey. The analysis showed that on any given day only 40 percent of babies are eating vegetables, and most get only about one-third the recommended amount of whole grains. Furthermore, by 12 months, infants and toddlers are consuming more than five teaspoons of added sugar and more than 1500 milligrams of sodium a day (which is the recommended limit for adults).
Proper nutrition in the first two years of life is critical to promoting good long-term health, vitality and obesity prevention - yet there is still a great deal of confusion about when to introduce food-based nutrition into babies' diets, and what they should be eating.
Intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains increase during the six to eight month "baby food" window, when baby food is the primary source of these food groups. But babies' diets start to become imbalanced around the nine-month mark and by 12 months here is how their diet breaks down on any given day according to the research commissioned by Beech-Nut Nutrition Company:
•More than 60% of babies are getting fruit; half comes from 100% juice, followed by bananas and apples
•Less than 30% of babies are getting vegetables, and the primary source is potatoes (whole/mashed); by 23 months, the primary source is potatoes in the forms of French fries and potato chips (by comparison, leafy greens make up 1% of consumption)
•Close to 30% of babies are drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (fruit drinks and soft drinks); by 23 months that increases to almost 45%
•Almost 40% of babies are eating brownies and cookies
•Nearly 40% of babies are eating crackers and salty snacks
•The primary sources of sodium are hot dogs, cured meats, crackers, cheese and mixed pasta dishes
•The primary sources of added sugars are fruit drinks, soft drinks, cookies and brownies, yogurt and ready-to-eat cereals
Consider the following tips when feeding your child(ren):
Tip 1: Keep It Varied
Research shows that babies have more balanced diets for the short window between six to eight months when they are given baby food. Once processed table foods are introduced, their diets jump in sodium and added sugar. As you transition to table foods, continue to include a variety of fruits and vegetables that your child enjoyed in the pureed version, gradually increasing the texture over time.
Tip 2: Make It Exciting
Baby food, whether homemade or store bought, doesn't have to be synonymous with bland, flavorless blends. Just like you wouldn't enjoy a plate of beige food without seasoning, your baby wouldn't either. Think of feeding your babies real food that adults would eat (prepared in safe consistencies for babies, of course!) that are filled with flavor, texture, color and some fun. The more exciting the nutritious food, the more likely they will eat it - and even seek it - beyond their baby years. While you may want to avoid spicy foods, global flavors like curry, cumin and ginger are great ways to expand your baby's palate early on!
Tip 3: Transition from Real Purees to Real Foods
Remember that baby food is real food, so the flavors are easy to translate into table food. Use baby food as a primer, so your baby isn't reacting to new flavors, textures and temperatures all at once. For instance, offer pureed peas today, and whole peas tomorrow.
When transitioning baby from pureed foods to whole foods, think real - which means foods from the ground or farm. While packaged goods have their place in the diet, and can save time and mess, they can often be high in sodium and added sugar with little to no nutrition value. Some ways to help keep it real:
•At snack time, swap chips, pretzels, cereal and crackers for fruits and vegetables. Some favorite go-to snacks are chopped tomatoes, baked pears with nutmeg, or bananas.
•Offer baked proteins, like rotisserie chicken, in place of boxed chicken nuggets and processed deli
•Balance 100% juice with whole pieces of fruit or jars of fruit puree to cut back on sugar. Even juice
without added sugars are still high in natural sugar.
As parents continue to plan their children's meals, proper nutrition is now of the upmost importance. Teaching children healthy eating now will help to ensure healthy eating continues through the years.
Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, et al. A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. N Engl J Med. 2005 Mar 17;352(11):1138-45.
NHANES Analysis of total fruit, vegetable, whole grains, added sugars and sodium in 0-24 months, 2001-2012 conducted by Nutrition Impact, LLC and NutriScience, LLC; lead researchers Victor Fulgoni, III and Sanjiv Agarwal