By one to two years of age, half of the fruit served is in the form of juice. Only thirty percent of the children are eating even one serving of a vegetable daily.

Start young with the healthiest foods

Child Eating Watermelon

In the first stage of life, babies get off to the right start nutrition-wise. Breast milk or infant formula gives them the nutrition that they need without anything else for several months. No added sugar. No processed foods.

Researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics looked at food intake information for 4,400 children under the age of two from 2001 to 2014. It is very interesting to see what happens when unhealthy foods are introduced into the diets of these young children.

Researchers found that from 0 to 8 months, children have a good base of healthy foods: breast milk or infant formula, followed by baby cereal without sugar or salt, and then mashed fruits and vegetables. So far, so good.

Things change a bit by nine months. Additional foods are now being added, including sweetened yogurt, snack crackers, French fries and assorted desserts such as cake and brownies.

By one to two years of age, half of the fruit served is in the form of juice. Only thirty percent of the children are eating even one serving of a vegetable daily. Potato chips and sodas? Oh yes, many at this age are consuming them!

In a relatively short time, considering the length of life, parents introduce a wide variety of foods that are processed and high in salt and/or sugar. Yes, parents are adding them into their children’s diet.

At the start of life until about two months, there is no added sugar. Then it goes up so that by age two, children are taking in the equivalent of nine teaspoons of added sugar and more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. By age two, French fries are the No.1 vegetable.

The tastes of sweet and salty are very appealing, so parents would be wise to delay adding these types of foods into the diets of their very young children. High salt and sugar intake can set the stage for health issues later, especially heart disease and diabetes.

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.