Getting toddlers to eat healthy is a high priority for many parents. So how have we been doing collectively? A newly released nutrition survey reveals some interesting diet data.
Eating Habits of Infants and Toddlers
- Fruit and vegetable consumption remains a problem for all age groups studied. About 25% of older infants, toddlers, and preschoolers don’t eat a single serving of fruit on any given day, and 30% don’t eat a single serving of vegetables.
- French fries are still the most popular vegetable among toddlers and preschoolers. However, among older babies there have been improvements; french fries are no longer ranked in the top 5 vegetables for infants aged 9-11 months.
- Fewer toddlers were consuming sweetened beverages in 2008 than in 2002. This was especially true among children aged 12-14 months (14% drank a sweetened beverage on any given day in 2008 versus 29% in 2002) and children aged 18-20 months (29% in 2008 versus 47% in 2002).
- 71% of toddlers and 84% of preschoolers consume more sodium than recommended on any given day.
- 12% of children from 6-11 months of age are not getting enough iron on any given day.
These findings are from the Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddler Study (FITS), which investigated the eating habits of over 3,000 children aged 0 to 4.
The Bottom Line
So, what should you do as the parents?
Be creative in finding way to include vegetables and fruit in your toddler’s diet. Nutritionist Keely Drotz, our own HealthCastle.com contributor specializing in kids nutrition, suggests shredding, julienning, or dicing fruit and vegetables to make them visually interesting. Offer an array of fun dips, or prepare sauces or dips with vegetables for young toddlers.
Avoid serving too many prepared baby or toddler foods. Some toddler foods contain added salt or sugar and are full of additives. “Just as adults shouldn’t eat all of our meals straight out of a can or box, it’s not healthy for infants and toddlers to regularly eat packaged baby foods,” Drotz says.
Infants between 6 and 12 months aren’t eating much meat, so it’s important to serve iron-fortified infant cereals to meet their iron needs.
Grow a vegetable. Kids are more likely to eat foods that they have contributed to making. Next spring, start by planting a cherry tomato plant in your own backyard. If you don’t have a backyard, container-gardening is still fun – and a cherry tomato plant can grow well in a container. When you feel more confident, plant more vegetables the year after.
Don’t give up. Some kids may take more than 10 exposures to accept a new food. So keep trying!
Gloria Tsang is the author of 5 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.