Providing young children with a balanced diet can be challenging. Nationwide, nutritional studies suggest that over 50% of babies and toddlers do not receive approved intakes of critical nutrients needed for optimal cognitive development. How important is good nutrition during the first three years of life? Recent research provides convincing evidence that food intake in early childhood has persistent effects. Academic performance, adult aptitude, bone stamina, height, and risk of obesity are a few variables impacted by early childhood nutrition (Roberts & Heyman, 2000).
Awareness of babies’ and toddlers’ cognitive, social and emotional growth can provide solid guidelines for shaping and supporting healthy eating habits. With basic assistance from families and providers, young children can maintain their innate ability to self-adjust calorie consumption to preserve a healthy weight and eat an age-appropriate combination of snacks and meals.
Suggestions for Parents and Providers:
1. Utilize the power of dietary variety. A mixed diet with a revolving supply of various fruits, vegetables and proteins can provide the correct balance of nutrients needed for long-lasting health.
2. Expect imitation- of parents, caregivers and others. Gaining knowledge by modeling behavior is part of the social inclination we all share and is a good approach, as the advancement of humankind indicates. It is extremely important for families and providers to be positive role models for young children. When a 12-month-old sees her mother enjoying healthy foods, she has a desire to do the same.
3. Get babies’ and toddlers’ interested in food. Planting a seed, making a meal as a family and even conversing about groceries while browsing together at the market are all useful ways to make unintriguing foods (i.e. vegetables) appealing.
Suggestions for Policymakers (Zero to Three):
Families who lack basic resources and are at risk for food insecurity purchase less food overall; furthermore, they are more likely to purchase food with low nutritional value or skip meals altogether. Government supported child food-based programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Food Stamp Program provide economic assistance, healthy foods, and health education to many at-risk families. Additionally, by providing for the dietary needs of young children, these programs provide parents with the opportunity to pay for other critical needs such as early education, medication, and housing costs. Policy leaders should completely fund these initiatives and revise eligibility to encompass all infants and toddlers living in households who may face food insecurity. Also, the nutritional supports offered by child nutrition programs must be frequently amended to reflect recent nutrition research and adequately funded to guarantee that benefits completely cover the financial cost of a nutritious dietary plan.
Roberts, S.B. & Heyman, M.B. (2000). How to feed babies and toddlers in the 21st century. Zero To Three Policy Network.
Zero to Three. (2009). Early Experiences Matter Policy Guide. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.
For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, visit The Urban Child Institute at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org.