As your little one nears her second birthday, she also approaches the 1000th day of her precious life that began inside you. From a tiny fertilised egg to the walking, talking toddler you see before you now, she’s come a long, long way. And so have you!
Through this programme you’ve learned about everything from breastfeeding and complementary feeding to spoon-feeding and responsive feeding. By getting your little one into the habit of healthy eating early in her life, you’ve increased her chances of growing up to be a child who consumes a varied diet. In addition, her healthy eating habits can promote healthy growth now, and in years to come.
Healthy habits start early
Scientists have discovered that dietary patterns are set early in life. Research has revealed that by 18-24 months, young children’s diets begin to be established and may mimic certain healthy or unhealthy eating habits seen in older children and adults. Toddlers who develop poor eating habits, such as consuming too many sugary drinks or missing out on essential fruits and vegetables, are more likely to continue these habits as they get older.
“From birth to four years, and especially in the first two years, the diets of infants and toddlers transition quickly from all milk to the foods of the family,” explains Kathleen Reidy, DrPH, RD, Head, Nutrition Science. “Research shows an increased intake of sweets, with lower intake of fruits and vegetables, as children get older. Establishing healthy eating patterns for children early in life can lead to better habits as children move into pre-school and school age.”
The global picture
Scientific studies in Mexico, Russia, and the US have revealed some improvements, along with some concerns, in the eating patterns of infants and toddlers. Overall, about 75% of the children consumed fruits or vegetables on the dietary survey day. Unfortunately, 25% did not consume a fruit or vegetable. And, in the US, the most popular vegetable among toddlers and pre-schoolers was fried potatoes. Given the opportunity, increased intake of fruits and vegetables may be more likely. Perhaps with more frequent offerings, and if children regularly saw a parent modelling healthy eating, they would choose other favourite vegetables (such as carrots), in place of fried potatoes. While too many children are consuming too much salt, sweets, and sugary drinks, in recent years decreases in juice consumption (in the US) and sugar-sweetened beverages (in Mexico) have been shown. These changes are encouraging.
Even though some toddlers may have gaps in their intake of nutrients, such as vitamin D or fiber, there is still time to make changes. The good news for your little one is that you have been following the First 1000 Days Nutrition Programme. You’ve learned about the importance of nutrition for your little one’s healthy growth and development. You recognise the value of shared family meals, and the opportunity to be a healthy-eating role model for your toddler. The programme has taught you the value of practicing responsive feeding, including honouring hunger and fullness cues. You understand why your toddler needs a variety of foods from all the main food groups to stay healthy today, tomorrow, and beyond.
- Colchero MA, Molina M, Guerrero-Lopez CM. After Mexico implemented a tax, purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages decreased and water increased: Difference by place of residence, household composition, and income level. J Nutr 2017; 147(8):1552-7.
- Deming DM, Afeiche MC, Reidy KC, et al. Early feeding patterns among Mexican babies: findings from the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Survey and implications for health and obesity prevention. BMC Nutrition 2015. DOI 10.1186/s40795-015-0035-5
- Mura Paroche M, Caton SJ, Vereijken C, et al. How infants and young children learn about food: A systematic review. Front Psychol 2017; 8:doi.10.3389/psyg.2017.01046.
- Reidy KC, Deming DM, Briefel RR, et al. Early development of dietary patterns: transitions in the contribution of food groups to total energy – Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, 2008. BMC Nutrition 2017; 3(5): doi 10.1186/s40795-016-0124-0.
- Russia FITS Summary Publication 2018 (not for distribution)
- Welker EB, Jacquier EF, Catellier DJ, et al. Room for improvement remains in food consumption patterns of young children aged 2-4 years. J Nutr 2018; 148(9S):1536S-1546S.
Last revised: December, 2018