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While babies between the ages of 6 and 11 months gobble up plenty of fruits and veggies, after age one, the amount of these healthy foods in a toddler's diet plummets, according to the new Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, from the Nestle Nutrition Institute.
By age four, fruits and vegetables only account for 5 percent of most kids' daily caloric intake, while sweets make up 15 percent of kids' daily calories. A whopping 75 percent of preschoolers regularly eat too much saturated fat and over 70 percent of two-year-old preschoolers (and 80 percent of three-year-olds) eat more salt than they should.
"It's a bit shocking how early we see kids beginning to adopt unhealthy eating habits," says Kathleen Reidy, a registered dietician with Nestle. "By 12 months, they are already eating a lot of sweets -- fruits and veggies fall by the wayside."
Most parents, Reidy says, do a great job of feeding their babies healthy foods. The transition from baby food to table food, though, can be a challenge for many families. If you're not sure what -- or how much -- your toddler or preschooler should be eating, the USDA can help you translate dietary recommendations into meals your child will actually eat. You can also find over 40 finger foods your baby will love here.
Pay attention to snacks, too. According to Nestle's survey, the most popular snacks for kids are cookies, candy and crackers. That's a problem when you consider that most American preschoolers take in a third of their daily calories between meals. Instead of grabbing a snack pack of crackers the next time your child's hungry, offer a nutrient-dense food, such as yogurt or low-fat cheese. And follow these tips for smarter snacking:
Serve water instead of sweetened beverages. Juice, soda and energy drinks are a major source of calories for all Americans today, including kids. Serve your child plain water every day so he'll develop a taste for it. There's no need to spring for bottled water either. Tap water is just fine, Reidy says.
Stock up on natural sweets. When your kids are whining for something sweet, offer fruit instead of cookies and cake, says Reidy. A good option for young toddlers is no-sugar-added applesauce, squeezable fruit purees or naturally-sweetened yogurt. Older toddlers and preschoolers can handle small pieces of sliced fruit.
Make it convenient. Keep a container of cut-up veggies in the fridge -- with the dip right next to it. Cut up some fruit after supper and stash it in the fridge so you can easily grab it during the hectic morning rush. Don't be afraid to buy pre-packaged, pre-sliced fruits and veggies.
Plan ahead. Think through your day, and plan or pack snacks as needed. Heading out to the doctor’s office for a well-child check? Stash some easy-to-hold cereal in the diaper bag. Don’t forget to include something for yourself too. If you have healthy snacks along, you’ll be much less likely to swing through the drive-thru for an order of fries.
Rely on healthy go-to snacks. Bananas, yogurt, whole grain granola bars and string cheese are all great, healthy, kid-friendly alternatives to cookies and crackers.