New data from Southampton University published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism indicate that infants weaned on healthy homemade foods grow up leaner than those fed on commercial baby products1.This adds to an increasing body of evidence that there is no substitute for using fresh, nutritious foods to guarantee a healthy start in life. Current guidance on how to feed toddlers is built upon this evidence. However, we do need to consider the barriers to following this advice and acknowledge that not everyone follows the ideal of healthy home cooked foods. Information should be available to help parents using convenience foods as part of their child’s diet to make the best choices.
While there are clear national nutrition guidelines available on feeding infants under the age of one year and school-age children, there are currently no consistent nutrition guidelines for children between one and three years. Most information available to parents on toddler nutrition is often vague and lacks clear practical advice such as exactly which foods, how much of them and how often they should be eaten.
Knowledge and understanding
Toddlers need nutritious food for rapid growth and development in the pre-school years but a recent survey highlighted parents are confused, simply do not understand their child’s unique nutritional needs and want more information on how to feed their toddlers: The I&TF survey2 showed that 95% of parents said they were following the government guidance to feed their toddler like the rest of the family – but for 44% of mums that means using pre-prepared adult convenience foods which may contain too much salt, sugar and fat for the under threes.
There needs to be greater clarification of terms, such as ‘home cooked’ or ‘family foods’ as very often ‘home cooked’ or ‘family foods’ are assembled from prepared ingredients or are based on adult ready meals. This fact was supported in the findings of the I&TF survey which reported that: · Only 35% claim to cook most meals for their toddler from scratch, with fresh ingredients especially for their toddler. 30% of under 3s are mostly offered a meal cooked with pre-prepared ingredients (e.g. ready-made pasta sauce or stock cube, Oxo) · 19% are mostly offered takeaways or adult convenience foods / ready meals both of which often contain high levels of salt, fat and sugar.
There is a great need for more practical information on healthy eating for the parents of toddlers – to provide them with clear interpretations of the guidance and to equip them with the knowledge that will allow them to make the best food choices for the health of their children – whether the food is home cooked or pre-prepared. The Infant & Toddler Forum are committed to the delivery of this information. They have launched ‘Little People’s Plates’ to translate the evidence based, practical information on toddler nutrition produced for healthcare professionals into an accessible and intelligible form for parents. All information is available at www.littlepeoplesplates.co.uk
1. Siân M Robinson, Lynne D Marriott, Sarah R Crozier, Nick C Harvey, Catharine R Gale, Hazel M Inskip, Janis Baird, Catherine M Law Keith M Godfrey, Cyrus Cooper, Southampton Women’s Survey Study Group. Variations in infant feeding practice are associated with body composition in childhood: a prospective cohort study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009 May.
2. Infant & Toddler Forum poll of 1,000 mothers with children aged between nine months and three years.