Starting around age 2, children have a more varied palate and are interested in trying new foods. As parents, it’s important to make sure we’re introducing healthy foods to our kids. The first two years of life is a critical time for forming the eating habits a child will have throughout their lifetime. And at this age, children eat small amounts, so the nutritional value of every bite matters.
The Not-so-Sweet Facts about Sugar
One of the most important things to keep tabs on is the amount of added sugars in your child’s diet. Added sugars are sweeteners added to foods and drinks – so not sugars occurring naturally.
When we think about added sugars, we tend to forget that beverages can be loaded with the sweet stuff and few other nutrients. In fact, according to a national nutrition survey, nearly a quarter of daily calories from added sugars came from sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sports drinks, and juice. That’s 5% higher than daily added sugar from desserts! That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no juice for children under the age of 1 year, no more than 4 ounces of juice per day for children 1-3 years, and at most 4-6 ounces per day for children 4 and older.
If you choose to give your child juice, make sure it is 100% juice. You can also dilute the juice with water to lessen the calories. Or, you can try zero-added sugar flavored water. Or better yet, infuse water with pieces of fresh fruits for natural flavoring..
Healthful and Not-so-Healthful Fats in Food
Let’s turn to another item to watch for: saturated fat. This can be confusing for many people because fat is an important part of a healthy diet. Healthy sources of fats, like avocados, fish, nuts and plant-based oils, are important for growth and development, but saturated fats – which are considered less healthy – should be limited.
An easy way to cut out saturated fats in your child’s diet is to limit the amount of processed foods they eat each day. When it comes to foods, fresh is best. An easy way to do this is to swap out unhealthy foods for healthy alternatives.
You might be asking: How do I know how much added sugar and saturated fat is in my child’s foods? The answer is right there on the nutrition label! The Nutrition Facts label shows you how large an adult serving size is, how many calories are in a serving, and what percentage of those calories come from saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, along many other important nutrients.
For parents of little ones, it’s important to understand that toddler serving sizes are vastly different than serving sizes for adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics has some great resources on serving sizes for toddlers, here.
Making healthy choices happens one food and beverage at a time! Remember: for growing children, every bite and sip counts. If you have any questions about your child’s dietary needs, reach out to your pediatrician for more information.
About the Author
Dr. Aldrin Insorio is a pediatrician at San Dimas Pediatrics in Bakersfield, a member of Valley Children’s Primary Care Group. He believes in serving not just as a pediatrician, but as an advocate for children’s health and wellbeing as a whole.