Dietary Guidelines’ New Focus on Life Stage Nutrition
One of the most important changes to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the inclusion of dietary recommendations for every life stage, from infancy to older adulthood.1 This new focus on healthy eating across the lifespan is based on science that shows this approach promotes meeting nutrient needs, achieving a healthy body weight, and reducing the risk of chronic disease.
Check out our Concept Lookbook that looks at the first stages of life from prenatal to adolescence.
How Toddlers and Kids are Meeting Nutritional Needs
The Dietary Guidelines recognize that nutrition shapes health from the very beginning, so it’s important to start with the right choices. In early life, as babies shift from breast milk and formula to foods, parents tend to reach for products that deliver health and convenience. This includes fruit and vegetable purees, yogurts, hot cereals, snack crackers, cereal bars, and entrée meals—often fortified and formulated for toddlers.
As toddlers become kids, they begin to share the foods and eating patterns of their parents. According to the Dietary Guidelines, this should be a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy or fortified soy alternatives, and protein foods—but many fall short. The Dietary Guidelines report a Healthy Eating Index score of only 61 out of 100 for children ages 2 to 4 which continues to decline through adolescence, indicating a lack of alignment with the guidelines early on.
Important Nutrients for Toddlers and Kids
In examining the special nutrition needs of toddlers and kids, the Dietary Guidelines report that foods rich in iron and zinc are especially important for toddlers, while calcium and vitamin D become priorities in later childhood as bone mass increases. Furthermore, as children get older, their consumption of vegetables, fruits, and dairy decreases, leaving them vulnerable to additional deficiencies. Although total grain intake is high, much of this is from refined grains (such as pasta, bread, chips, crackers, and cookies), rather than whole grains.