In the first year of life, an infant’s nutritional needs are high. To help parents meet those needs, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a well-defined set of dietary guidelines. The second year of life, however, is also very important from a dietary standpoint; a child’s dietary patterns change more quickly during the second year of life than at any other time. Specifically, the child undergoes an important transition from a predominately milk- or formula-based diet to an adult-style diet. Yet there are no official dietary guidelines targeting 1-year-olds, except for the recommendation to avoid restriction of fat intake, which may be hazardous to health in this age group.
A study conducted at the Departments of Nutrition and Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University investigated the nutritional quality of children’s diets in the second year of life. A total of 55 children from 12 to 18 months of age and their parents participated in the 6-month study. Three-day dietary records were collected by mothers, other caregivers, or the researchers at monthly intervals throughout the study period. Nutrient intake and measures of growth were then analyzed.
Results indicated that calorie intake increased from 12 to 18 months of age, with the relative caloric contributions from energy-giving macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) remaining constant. Throughout the study, fat consumption provided less than 30% of energy intake for 22% to 33% of the participants. Micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) intake patterns varied. Intake of some micronutrients was above recommended levels, but intakes of other key nutrients (including iron, zinc, and vitamin E) were low during the transition from an infant diet to an adult-type diet.
What This Means to You: Remember that nonfat or reduced fat dairy products should not be part of a child’s diet prior to 2 years of age. Grains, dairy, and meat groups are important sources of the nutrients most 1-year-olds require: iron, zinc, and vitamin E. Read the labels and make sure that the foods you serve your child are high in these three nutrients to support optimum growth and development. If you have any questions about your child’s nutrition, ask your child’s doctor or a registered dietitian for advice.