The choices we provide to infants and toddlers set the stage for lifelong nutrition habits!
From Facebook posts to coffee room chats, we are caught in a whirlwind of information about nutrition and healthy eating every day. On the flip side, advertising for not-so-great choices is directed at children daily, from grocery store displays to fast food at every corner! Figuring out just what, when and how to feed your child can seem like an impossible task to conquer.
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the USDA, provide many tools to help parents and caregivers provide appropriate nutrition for children. We just need to take the initiative and educate ourselves and be willing to let go of our own biases.
For infants, the AAP recommends that breast-feeding continue for the first 12 months, with exclusive breast-feeding for the first 6 months. Breast-feeding after a baby’s first birthday is recommended for as long as mother and baby desire. To support this recommendation, early childhood professionals should develop an environment supportive of breast-feeding families. Staff should receive training on how to store, handle and feed expressed breast-milk. CACFP’s infant meal plan recommends that children ages four to seven months begin to receive zero to three tablespoons of infant cereal, fruit and vegetables at lunch and dinner in addition to breast-milk or iron fortified formula. From eight to 11 months, caregivers can begin to add in one to four tablespoons of meat, fish, egg yolk, cooked beans or pasta, cottage cheese, fruit and vegetables as they desire.
A great resource for parents and caregivers is ChooseMyPlate.gov. This website has a wealth of information to provide appropriate nutrition to the children we care for. For preschoolers, Choose My Plate recommends that you divide the plate into quarters – one quarter for whole grains, one quarter for lean protein and half of the plate for fruit and vegetables. Their guide also provides examples of ideal serving sides: ⅓ cup dry cereal, ¼ cup cooked pasta or rice, ¼ cup fruit or vegetables, 1 egg, 1 ounce lean meat or poultry, ¾ cup low fat milk, etc.
The food that children enjoy when they are young impacts their eating habits for a lifetime.
Encouraging healthy choices now has a lifelong impact. An occasional fast food meal or cookie is a special treat, but making healthy choices the norm for children will help set them on a path of good nutrition and a healthy attitude towards food.
Cover image by Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski, Creative Commons license.