31 Mar Feeding Infants and Toddlers: The Latest Recommendations
This post is in collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner., managed by NCBA, on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. All opinions are my own.
Since 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) have provided science-based advice on what to eat and drink in order to promote health, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and meet nutrient needs. Every 5 years a new set of DGAs are released. The 2020-2025 DGAs were finally released on December 29, 2020. For the first time, these highly anticipated guidelines included recommendations for infants and toddlers (ages 0 to 23 months), along with pregnant and lactating women. The theme for the 2020-2025 DGAs is to make every bite count, and this is especially true during the first 24 months of life. Here’s a look into the nutrient needs of infants and toddlers and tips for feeding your baby during this life stage.
Key Recommendations: 0 to 6 months
For the first 6 months of life, the recommendation is to exclusively feed infants human milk. In addition, the infant can be breastfed for at least the first year of life, or longer if desired. If human milk is unavailable, the infants should be fed iron-fortified formula for the first year.
Vitamin D: Infants who are breast fed or mixed fed with both formula and breast milk need a 400 IU vitamin D supplement soon after birth. An infant exclusively fed formula will not need a supplement as it’s fortified with vitamin D.
Vitamin B12: Breast milk has enough vitamin B12 to meet the needs of the infant unless the mother’s vitamin B12 status is compromised. This can happen due to a variety of reasons including if the mother is a strict vegan (doesn’t include any animal foods). If the mother’s vitamin B12 status is compromised, it can affect the infants. Speak to your healthcare provider to determine if the infant needs a vitamin B12 supplement.
Key Recommendations: 6 to 11 months
At about 6 months, infants should be introduced to nutrient-dense complementary foods. The recommended window to introduce solid foods is between 4 to 6 months. The infant should show developmental signs of readiness which include:
- Being able to control head and neck
- Sitting up alone without support
- Bringing objects to the mouth
- Trying to grasp small objects, such as toys or food
- Swallowing food rather than pushing it back out onto the chin
Complementary foods help ensure adequate nutrition, plus it helps expose the infant to a variety of flavors, textures, and different types of foods. Infants should also be given age- and developmentally-appropriate foods to help prevent choking. The top choking hazards include:
- Nuts and Seeds
- Hot dogs
- Raw Carrots
- Chunks of peanut butter
Iron: Iron-rich foods are an important part of an infant’s diet beginning at about 6 months. Having enough iron helps support neurological development and immune function. Options that contain iron include beef and other meats, seafood, and iron-fortified infant cereals.
Zinc: Zinc-rich complementary foods starting at 6 months are important as zinc helps support growth and immune function. Foods providing zinc include beef and other meats, beans, and zinc-fortified infant cereals.
One way to boost iron and zinc intake for your infant is by introducing pureed beef as a complementary food, while continuing to breastfeed. When I was introducing complementary foods to my son – who is now 18 years old – I would frequently travel to see family in Israel. Beef was commonly being introduced as a first food to infants because of the nutrients it provides including protein, iron, zinc, and choline. In addition, it can also provide the infant with a unique taste and texture experience.
Transitioning to Solid Food
During the first year of life your baby will transition from a thin pureed food and advance to complex textures as their skills develop. By the end of the first year, they should be eating chopped foods, finger foods, and family food. Here are guidelines on how the textures evolve:
- Around 6 months: Start with thin pureed single-ingredient foods like pureed carrots, pureed apples, and pureed beef.
- 6 to 8 months: Your baby may be ready to transition to mashed, lumpy texture foods and combinations of single-ingredient foods. These include mashed avocado or mashed banana, pureed beef, and pureed green beans. Your baby may also be ready for soft, dissolvable finger foods like puffs and crackers.
- 8 to 10 months: Your baby may be ready to transition to chopped table food like shredded or chopped beef, well-cooked pasta, chopped cooked vegetables, or soft-cooked beans.
- 10 to 12 months: Your baby can start transitioning to chopped family food and practice self-feeding using a small spoon.
Key Recommendations: 12 to 23 months
At the one year mark, toddlers drink less breast milk and infant formula isn’t recommended past one year. Toddlers 12 to 23 months who no longer get breast milk or infant formula should follow the Healthy U.S. Dietary Pattern which contains fruits, vegetables, milk and dairy foods, protein foods (from both plant and animals), starches, and healthy fats.
Choline: Choline is often under consumed by older infants. You can find choline in beef, eggs, chicken, and beans.
Vitamin D, calcium, dietary fiber, and potassium: These four nutrients are of public health concern for everyone in the U.S. including toddlers.
Feeding Tips for Toddlers
It can be challenging to feed toddlers. Because their growth slows down after the first year, their appetite can fluctuate from day to day. You may also start hearing the word “no” at the table. Fear of new food, food jags (the eating of the same food), and picky eating are often seen at this stage. Here are several recommendations to help feed toddlers:
- Enjoy family meals that include your toddler sitting at the table with the entire family.
- Make one meal for your entire family, including your toddler. Plan meals and snacks with variety in mind, but do include several foods you know your toddler will eat.
- Offer a variety of foods from all food groups. Use a variety of cooking methods, presentations, and flavor components. Repeat exposure to foods – about 8 to 10 times – is the best way to encourage acceptance of new foods.
- Don’t pressure your toddler to eat more or try a new food. This tactic often backfires and leads to refusal of the food.
- Don’t be stressed if your toddler refuses food. Keep feeding time positive and consistent with the meal you have planned and try again another time.
Toddler Meals Perfect for the Family
Below are several meals that are perfect for the entire family, including your toddler. All these meals provide an array of food groups.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatric Nutrition Handbook. 7th ed. Elk Grove, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014.
- Beef.It’s What’s for Dinner. Beef in the early years.