For about the first six months of an infant’s life, they rely primarily on breast milk or formula for their nutrition. Around four to six months of age, many infants show signs of readiness to try solid foods.
This exciting new time can bring up a lot of questions for parents. Dos and don’ts parents may worry about include how to identify when your baby is ready to try foods for the first time, questions surrounding food safety, building a healthy relationship with food, and how to choose and prepare foods to prevent choking.
Other questions that may come up include how much to serve your child and interpreting the Nutrition Facts Label.
Nutrition Facts Label
Foods other than infant formula that are specifically marketed for infants or children 1 to 3 years of age have special Nutrition Facts panels. If you’ve seen these, you may have noticed that they look a little different from the labels on foods for older children and adults. While a lot of the information is the same, there are a few differences.
Although some people may be surprised to learn, the serving size on a Nutrition Facts Label is not meant to indicate how much a child or adult should be eating or drinking. Serving sizes for infant and toddler foods are based on average amounts that they will usually eat at one time. For infants, these foods apply specifically to those up to 12 months of age. For toddlers, this applies to children ages 1 to 3 years old. Serving sizes on foods marketed for older children and adults are based on average amounts that they typically eat at one time.
Percent Daily Values
The percent Daily Value, or %DV, indicates how much of a nutrient is provided in a serving and its contribution toward the entire day. It serves as a quick way to identify if a food is high or low in the nutrients listed. In general, a %DV of 5 or less per serving is considered low and 20% DV or more is considered high.
Food labels for infants and toddlers will list percent Daily Values for some nutrients, including total fat, total carbohydrate, protein, vitamin D and the minerals calcium, iron, and potassium. Generally, a percent DV is not included for other nutrients.
Another notable difference will be the footnote which explains how to interpret the percent Daily Values. There will be no footnote on foods for infants. However, food labels for children 1 to 3 years will indicate that the general nutrition advice for this age group is based on 1,000 calories per day.
The amount of food infants can consume at this age is relatively small, so they will continue to rely on breast milk or iron-fortified formula for adequate nutrition through the first year. Over time, offer a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all the food groups, especially those that provide iron, zinc, calcium and potassium. Children under two years need fat, so parents should not attempt to limit their fat intake. However, added sugars (along with low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners) are not recommended for infants and children younger than age 2. For children between the ages of 1 and 5, milk and water are encouraged as the primary beverages.
For more information about introducing first foods and nutrition for infants and children, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist.