Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued their 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines (DGA), which advise Americans about ideal food and beverage choices for a healthy lifestyle.
The 2020-2025 guidelines are groundbreaking, because they mark the first time the USDA has offered specific feeding recommendations for infants and toddlers (children from birth to 2 years of age). These guidelines advise parents and caregivers on how to select early foods that will promote baby’s healthy growth and encourage baby to develop lifelong nutritious eating habits.
As the DGA report states, “The time from birth until a child’s second birthday is a critically important period for proper growth and development. It also is key for establishing healthy dietary patterns that may influence the trajectory of eating behaviors and health throughout the life course.”
Today, we’ll break down the top 5 takeaways from these guidelines for children from birth to 23 months, so your family is equipped to encourage your child to develop healthy eating habits.
The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines: Our Top 5 Takeaways
1. Introduce Infants To Allergy-Causing Foods
The USDA’s new dietary guidelines emphasize how important it is for parents and caregivers to introduce common allergy-causing foods to babies. According to the DGA, “potentially allergenic foods,” including peanut, egg, cow’s milk products, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, fish, and soy, “should be introduced… [into] an infant’s diet.”
Parents and caregivers should not delay introducing these foods, because “there is no evidence that delaying introduction of allergenic foods… helps to prevent food allergy.”
If an infant is at higher risk for peanut allergy (because they have severe eczema, egg allergy, or both), it is especially vital for them to start eating peanut-containing foods early, to reduce their risk of developing a peanut allergy later in life. As the DGA report emphasizes, “if an infant has severe eczema, egg allergy, or both, age-appropriate, peanut containing foods should be introduced into the diet as early as age 4 to 6 months. This will reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy.”
Do not introduce whole nuts or chunky peanut butter to infants, though, says the DGA, as this can pose a risk of choking. Instead, choose “age-appropriate” foods that contain peanut and/or tree nuts.
2. Avoid Feeding Added Sugars
As the USDA guidelines stress, there is “virtually no room in [an infant’s or toddler’s] diet for added sugars.” Added sugars are any sugars in processed foods— sugars that don’t occur naturally in raw ingredients like fruits. Since babies consume very small amounts of food, every bite is vital to meet their high nutritional requirements. They don’t need the empty, non-nutritious calories of added sugar to take up space in their diet.
Plus, during this critical time period, baby’s eating habits and taste preferences are starting to be formed, which will impact their food choices throughout the rest of their lives. If infants consume too much added sugar, there’s a risk that they will develop a preference towards overly sweet foods.
Learn more about these important new guidelines from FOX17 and Board Certified Allergist Katie Marks-Cogan M.D.:
3. Feed Baby A Diverse Diet
To further encourage nutritious eating habits, parents and caregivers should offer infants and toddlers foods from all food groups. Remember, though, that an infant may only accept a new type of food after you feed it to them 8-10 times (or more). So, be persistent. Continuing to offer a variety of foods on multiple occasions will help encourage healthy eating and “a nutrient-dense, diverse diet from age 6 through 23 months of life.”
4. Practice Responsive Feeding
Responsive feeding is “a feeding style that emphasizes recognizing and responding to the hunger or fullness cues of an infant or young child,” as the USDA explains in the DGA. This feeding method helps baby learn to self-regulate their appetite. Be aware of cues like these so you can tell whether baby is hungry or full:
Signs of Hunger
- Baby opens their mouth when the breast, bottle, or food is offered
- Baby puts their hands to their mouth
- Baby turns their head towards the breast, bottle, or food
- Baby gets excited at the sight of food
- Baby reaches for or points to food
- Baby clenches their hands
- Baby puckers, smacks, or licks their lips
Signs of Fullness
- Baby turns their head away from breast, bottle, or food
- Baby closes their mouth when breast, bottle, or food is offered
- Baby relaxes their hands
- Baby no longer seems interested in eating
- Baby pushes food away
5. Feed Infants Breastmilk for the First 6 Months, If Possible
Breastfeeding represents the ideal first nutrition source for your baby, as breastmilk is formulated to provide all the nutrients an infant needs. So, if possible, breastmilk should support most of your baby’s nutrition needs from birth through about age 6 months. However, if breastfeeding is not an option for your baby, the DGA recommends choosing an “iron-fortified commercial infant formula (i.e., labeled “with iron”) regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”