The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published new dietary guidelines to help Americans get and stay healthier across all parts of the lifespan. Babies and toddlers are included for the first time, because the recommendations cover our full lifespan.
The guidelines are called “Make Every Bite Count.” If we want to get and stay healthy, we shouldn’t be eating foods that are basically empty calories — or worse, foods that actually do us harm.
Because foods can do us harm. Eating an unhealthy diet can lead to obesity, with the cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and everything else obesity brings. It can lead to cancer, tooth decay, anemia, high blood pressure, weak bones, and so many other problems. The adage “you are what you eat” is remarkably true.
Why healthy eating is so important for children
Children are building bodies and habits they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. The track they get on when they are young is very often the one they stay on, and we want that to be a good track.
Right now, 40% of children are overweight or obese, and research shows that they are likely to stay that way or get worse. Since children rely on parents and caregivers for their food, this is on us. We literally have their lives in our hands.
Starting with infants and toddlers: First foods and responsive eating
For infants and toddlers, the recommendations include
- feeding with breast milk whenever possible, ideally for at least the first six months of life. When that isn’t possible, infants should be fed iron-fortified infant formula.
- vitamin D for infants that are entirely or mostly breastfed
- responsive feeding: parents and caregivers are encouraged to pay attention to the cues babies give to us when they